Spotlight on ……

Bobbie Gentry

Roberta Lee Streeter (born July 27, 1944, Chickasaw County, Mississippi), professionally known as Bobbie Gentry, is a former American singer-songwriter. Gentry is one of the first female country artists to write and produce her own material. She wrote much of her own material, drawing on her Mississippi roots to compose vignettes of the Southern United States.

With her U.S. number 1 album, Ode to Billie Joe, and the Southern Gothic narrative of the title track, she won the Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammy awards in 1968. "Ode to Billie Joe" was the fourth most popular song in the United States in 1967. Gentry charted nine singles in Billboard Hot 100 and four singles in the United Kingdom Top 40. After her first albums, she turned towards the variety show genre. After losing her popularity in the 1970s, she quit performing and has since lived privately in Los Angeles.

Roberta Streeter is partially of Portuguese ancestry. Her parents divorced shortly after her birth, and she was raised in poverty by her mother, on her grandparents' farm in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. After her grandmother traded one of the family's milk cows for a neighbor's piano, seven-year-old Bobbie composed her first song, "My Dog Sergeant Is a Good Dog". She attended elementary school in Greenwood, Mississippi, and began teaching herself to play guitar, bass, and banjo and vibes, and sang at a local country club while she was in high school. At 13, she moved to Arcadia, California to live with her mother, Ruby Bullington Streeter. She had a half sister Rosemary in Vancouver,Canada. Her sister was much younger and grew up to be a teacher.

Roberta Streeter graduated from Palm Valley School in 1960. She chose the stage name "Bobbie Gentry" from the 1952 film Ruby Gentry (starring Jennifer Jones as a heroine born into poverty but determined to make a success of her life) and began performing at local country clubs. Encouraged by Bob Hope, she performed in a revue of Les Folies Bergeres nightclub of Las Vegas. Gentry then moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA as a philosophy major, and supported herself by working in clerical jobs, occasionally performing at local nightclubs. She later transferred to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to hone her composition and performing skills. In 1964, she made her recording debut, with a pair of duets – "Ode to Love" and "Stranger in the Mirror" with rockabilly singer Jody Reynolds.Her career failed to take off, however, and she continued performing in nightclubs until Capitol Records executive Kelly Gordon heard a demo she recorded in 1967.

Gentry married casino entrepreneur Bill Harrah in Reno, Nevada, but the marriage lasted only briefly. In 1979, Gentry married singer-songwriter Jim Stafford. Their marriage lasted 11 months. Gentry had one son with Stafford by the name of Tyler.

In 1967, Gentry produced her first single, "Mississippi Delta"/"Ode to Billie Joe", detailing the suicide of Billie Joe McAllister, who flings himself off the Tallahatchie Bridge. The song used a traditional blues scale, lowered the 3rd and the 7th degree. The track topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in August 1967 and placed #4 in the year-end chart. The single hit #8 on Billboard Black Singles and #13 in the UK Top 40. The single sold over three million copies. The Rolling Stone listed it among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2001.

The LP replaced Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at the top of U.S. charts. It also reached #5 of the Billboard Black Albums charts. Bobbie Gentry won three Grammy Awards in 1967, including Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She was also named the Academy of Country Music's Best New Female Vocalist. In February, 1968 Bobbie Gentry took part in the Italian Song Festival in Sanremo, as one of the two performers (alongside Al Bano) of the song "La siepe" by Vito Pallavicini and Massara. In a competition of 24 songs, the entry qualified to the final 14 and eventually placed ninth.

Gentry’s later albums did not match the success of her first. In 1968 she collaborated on the album Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell, which achieved a gold record. In October 1969 Gentry's "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" a popular song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David reached number one on the UK singles chart for a single week. In January 1970, it became a number-six hit on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for Dionne Warwick.

In 1970 she received recognition for her composition, “Fancy”, which rose to

#26 on the U.S. Country charts and #31 on the pop charts. Gentry’s view:

"Fancy" is my strongest statement for women's lib, if you really listen to it. I agree wholeheartedly with that movement and all the serious issues that they stand for — equality, equal pay, day care centers, and abortion rights.


The album, as the rest of her post– “Ode to Billie Joe” records, had little commercial success. However, it brought Gentry an Academy of Country Music Award and a Grammy nomination, both in the category of Best Female Vocalist.


Gentry continued to write and perform, touring Europe, generating a significant fan base in the United Kingdom and headlining a Las Vegas review for which she produced, choreographed, wrote and arranged the music. In 1974, Bobbie Gentry hosted a short-lived summer replacement variety show, The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour, on CBS. The show, which served as her own version of Campbell's hit series The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, also on CBS, was not renewed for a full season. That same year, Bobbie Gentry wrote and performed "Another Place, Another Time" for writer-director Max Baer, Jr.'s film, Macon County Line. In 1976, Baer directed a feature film Ode to Billy Joe based on her hit song, starring Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor. In the movie, the mystery of the title character's suicide is revealed as a part of the conflict between his love for Bobbie Lee Hartley and his emerging homosexuality. Bobbie Gentry's re-recording of the song for the film hit the pop charts, as did Capitol's reissue of the original recording; both peaked outside the top fifty. Her behind-the-scenes work in television production failed to hold her interest. After a 1978 single for Warner Bros. Records, "He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right", failed to chart, Bobbie Gentry decided to retire from show business. Her last public appearance as a performer was on Christmas Night 1978 as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. After that, she settled in Los Angeles and remained out of public life.

In the hectic atmosphere of 1967, Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" stood out with its simplicity and integrity. Bobbie Gentry is one of the first female country artists to write and produce her own material. Typically her songs have autobiographic characteristics. Bobbie Gentry charted 9 singles in Billboard Hot 100 and 4 singles in the UK Top 40.


Bob Dylan's 1967 "Clothesline Saga" mimiced the conversational style of "Ode to Billie Joe", with lyrics concentrating on routine household chores containing a shocking event buried in the mundane details (the revelation that "The Vice-President's gone mad!" In 2004, singer-songwriter Jill Sobule began performing a song called "Where Is Bobbie Gentry?" about the mystique surrounding Gentry since her retirement from the public eye. The song appears on Sobule's 2009 album California Years. Beth Orton wrote another song called "Bobbie Gentry" and released it on her 2003 album The Other Side of Daybreak. On their 1984 album, The Third Album, the Scottish band Orange Juice sang about "the lovely face of Bobbie Gentry" in "Out For The Count".




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