continuing our in-depth biography series


bobby gentry

the magical music & the mystery of billy joe macallister

Bobby Gentry, the legendary American sixties siren, was born Roberta Lee Streeter on 27th July 1944 in Chicasaw County, Mississippi. Of Portuguese descent, she was raised on a poverty-stricken farm in Greenwood, Mississippi, and was interested in music from an early age. She wrote her first song at the age of seven ('My Dog Sergeant Is A Good Dog') and taught herself piano, guitar, banjo and vibes. By her teens, she was performing regularly and took her stage name from the film Ruby Gentry . After studying both philosophy and music, she was signed to Capitol Records and recorded Mississippi Delta in 1967. The single of "Mississippi Delta" was backed by the seven minute classic "Ode To Billie Joe". Violins and cellos were added, the song was reduced from its original seven minutes to just under five, and, as a result of disc jockeys' reactions, it became Gentry's next single. Gentry subsequently topped the US charts for four weeks and reached number 13 in the UK. Capitol's truncated version added to the song's mystery: what did Billie Joe and his girlfriend throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and why did Billie Joe commit suicide? The 1976 film Ode To Billy Joe, starring Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor, had Billy Joe throw his girlfriend's ragdoll over the bridge and commit suicide because of a homosexual affair.Theories abound to this day, and to this day Bobbie Gentry keeps her silence.

Bobby Gentry's sunsequent output fared better in the UK than the US, and in 1969 she briefly hosted her own TV programme in Britain, before returning to the studio. She made an album with Glen Campbell, which included the hits "Let It Be Me" (US Top 40) and "All I Have To Do Is Dream" (US Top 30/UK number 3). Shetopped the charts again in 1969 with "I'll Never Fall In Love Again", before becoming a regular headliner in Las Vegas. She retired from performing altogether and married, twice, the first time to Bill Harrah, the manager of the Desert Inn Hotel and again in 1978, to singer-songwriter Jim Stafford. Always a reclusive figure and a reluctant star, Bobby Gentry's music still continues to fascinate and perplex world audiences. Little is known of her present activites, though it is believed Gentry probably prefers it that way.

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