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Bobbie Gentry

Background information
Birth name Roberta Lee Streeter
Born July 27, 1944 (1944-07-27) (age 65)
Origin Chickasaw County, Mississippi, United States
Genres Country, pop, soul
Occupations Singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1964–1978
Labels Capitol
Associated acts Glen Campbell

Roberta Lee Streeter (born July 27, 1944), professionally known as Bobbie Gentry, is a retired American singer-songwriter notable as one of the first female country artists to write and produce her own material.[1] Her songs typically drew on her Mississippi roots to compose vignettes of the Southern United States.

Gentry shot to international fame with her intriguing Southern Gothic narrative "Ode to Billie Joe" in 1967. The track was fourth in the Billboard year-end chart of 1967[2] and earned her the Grammy awards for the Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1968. Gentry charted nine singles in Billboard Hot 100 and four singles in the United Kingdom Top 40.[3] Her album Fancy brought her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. After her first albums, she turned towards variety shows. After a successful run on the Las Vegas Strip in the late 1970s, she lost interest in performing and has since lived privately in Los Angeles.



Gentry was born Roberta Streeter and is of English and Portuguese ancestry. She was born in Chickasaw County, Mississippi to Robert and Ruby (Bullington) Streeter. She has an older brother, Robert Streeter Jr. Her parents divorced shortly after her birth, and her mother moved to California. Gentry was raised on her grandparents' farm in Chickasaw County. Her grandmother traded one of the family's milk cows for a neighbor's piano, and seven-year-old Bobbie composed her first song, "My Dog Sergeant Is a Good Dog". She attended school in Greenwood, Mississippi, and began teaching herself to play the guitar, bass, banjo, and vibes. At 13, she moved to Arcadia, California to live with her mother. She has a half sister Rosemary Harris, a talented western Canadian musician and singer. Her full sister is much younger and works as a teacher.

Gentry graduated from Palm Valley School in 1962. She chose her stage name from the 1952 film Ruby Gentry about 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 at Les Folies Bergeres nightclub of Las Vegas. Gentry then moved to Los Angeles to enter UCLA as a philosophy major. She supported herself in clerical jobs, occasionally performing at nightclubs. She later transfered to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to develop her composition and performing skills. In 1964, she made her recording debut in two duets – "Ode to Love" and "Stranger in the Mirror" with rockabilly singer Jody Reynolds.
She continued performing in nightclubs until Capitol Records executive Kelly Gordon heard a demo she had recorded in 1967.

Professional career

Cover of Bobbie Gentry's debut album (1967)

In 1967, Gentry produced her first single, the country rock "Mississippi Delta"; however, it was the flipside, "Ode to Billie Joe" with its sparse sound and controversial lyrics that started to receive airplay in the U.S.[4] Capitol's shortened version added to the song's mystery. Questions arose among the listeners: what did Billie Joe and his girlfriend throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and why did Billie Joe commit suicide? Gentry herself has commented on the song, saying that its real theme was indifference:[5]

Those questions are of secondary importance in my mind. The story of Billie Joe has two more interesting underlying themes. First, the illustration of a group of peoples' reactions to the life and death of Billie Joe, and its subsequent effect on their lives, is made. Second, the obvious gap between the girl and her mother is shown when both women experience a common loss (first Billie Joe, and later, Papa), and yet Mama and the girl are unable to recognize their mutual loss or share their grief.

The track topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in August 1967 and placed #4 in the year-end chart.[2] The single hit #8 on Billboard Black Singles and #13 in the UK Top 40[3] and sold over three million copies all over the world.[1] Rolling Stone magazine listed it among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2001.

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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. 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, Gentry took part in the Italian Song Festival in Sanremo, as one of 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.[6]

Bobbie Gentry's second album, The Delta Sweete, released in 1968, did not match the success of her first. It yielded a Billboard top-sixty hit, "Okolona River Bottom Band". She also collaborated on the album Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell which achieved a gold record. Gentry made numerous guest appearances on TV shows hosted by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Andy Williams, Carol Burnett and Bobby Darin. In 1969, she released Touch 'Em with Love, her most critically acclaimed album, which gave her a number-one hit in the UK with "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. In January 1970, it became a number-six hit on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for Dionne Warwick. Gentry hosted her own series on BBC-TV in London, which was later widely shown in Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and elsewhere.

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.[1] Gentry's personal view on the song:[7]

"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 was the case with the rest of her post-"Ode to Billie Joe" recordings, 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.[8]

Stage performances and television work (1971-1978)

Gentry continued to write and perform, touring Europe, generating a significant fan base in the United Kingdom. She signed a million-dollar contract headlining her own $150,000 nightclub review in Las Vegas for which she produced, choreographed, wrote and arranged the music. She reported:[5]

I write and arrange all the music, design the costumes, do the choreography, the whole thing. I'm completely responsible for it. It's totally my own from inception to performance. I originally produced "Ode To Billie Joe" and most of my other records, but a woman doesn't stand much chance in a recording studio. A staff producer's name was nearly always put on the records.

In 1974, 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, Gentry wrote and performed "Another Place, Another Time" for writer-director Max Baer, Jr.'s film, Macon County Line. In 1976, Baer directed the feature film Ode to Billy Joe, which was based on her hit song [9] and starred 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. 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, 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 the public eye.[1]

Personal life

Gentry has been married three times. Her first marriage was to casino magnate Bill Harrah in 1969 and lasted only weeks. She married singer and comedian Jim Stafford on October 15, 1975; they divorced a few years later after the birth of their son Tyler. She has since remarried.[10][11]


In the hectic atmosphere of 1967, Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" stood out with its simplicity and integrity.[12] Gentry is one of the first female country artists to write and produce her own material.[1] Typically her songs have autobiographic characteristics.[12]


Bobbie Gentry charted 9 singles in Billboard Hot 100[1] and 4 singles in the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart.[3] Beth Orton recorded a song entitled "Bobby Gentry" featured on her The Other Side of Daybreak album. Similarly, Jill Sobule recorded "Where Is Bobbie Gentry?" for her album California Years.



Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country US US AC UK Singles Chart[13 ]
1963 "Requiem For Love/Stranger In The Mirror"
  • Titan 1736
1967 "Ode to Billie Joe/Mississippi Delta"
  • Capitol 5950
17 1 7 13 Ode to Billie Joe
"I Saw An Angel Die/Poppa, Won't 'Cha Let Me Go To Town With You"
  • Capitol 5992
"Okolona River Bottom Band/Penduli, Pendulum"
  • Capitol 2044
1968 "Louisiana Man/Court Yard"
  • Capitol 2147
72 100 The Delta Sweete
"Hushabye Mountain/Sweet Peony"
  • Capitol 2295
"Morning Glory/Less Of Me" (with Glen Campbell)
  • Capitol 2321
74 Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell
1969 "Let It Be Me/Little Green Apples" (with Glen Campbell)
  • Capitol 2387
14 36 7
"I'll Never Fall in Love Again/Ace Insurance Man"
  • Capitol 15606
1 Touch 'Em with Love
"Casket Vignette/Touch 'Em with Love"
  • Capitol 2387
1970 "All I Have to Do Is Dream/ Less Of Me" (with Glen Campbell)
  • Capitol 2745
6 27 7 3 Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell
"Fancy/Court Yard"
  • Capitol 2675
26 31 Fancy
"Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head/Seasons Come, Seasons Go"
  • Capitol 15626
"He Made a Woman Out of Me/Billy The Kid"
  • Capitol 2788
"Apartment 21/Seasons Come Seasons Go"
  • Capitol 2849
1971 "But I Can't Get Back/Marigolds and Tangerines"
  • Capitol 3071
1972 "Girl From Cincinnati/You And Me Together"
  • Capitol 3413
1976 "Another Time, Another Place/I Think I'll Cry Out Loud"
  • Brunswick 55517
"Ode to Billie Joe/There'll Be A Time" (re-recording)
  • Warner Bros 8210
54 Greatest Hits
1978 "He Did Me Wrong But He Did It Right/Steal Away"
  • Warner Bros 8210


Data from Allmusic[1]

Year Album Chart Positions RIAA
US Country US UK Albums Chart[13 ]
1967 Ode to Billie Joe
  • Capitol
  • Catalogue Number T/ST-2830
1 1 Gold
1968 The Delta Sweete 132
Local Gentry
Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell 1 11 Gold
Way Down South
1969 Touch 'Em with Love 42 164 21
  • Capitol
  • Catalogue Number SKOA-381
1970 Fancy 34 96
I'll Never Fall In Love Again
  • Capitol
  • Catalogue Number ST 21609
Bobbie Gentry Portrait
1971 Patchwork
Sittin' Pretty
Tobacco Road
Your No 1 Fan
  • Capitol
  • Catalogue Number SLAO-6715
1983 Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell

All I have to do is Dream

  • Capitol
  • Catalogue Number MFP-5600
1990 Bobbie Gentry's Greatest Hits
  • Curb
  • Catalogue Number D2-77387
1994 The Best of Bobbie Gentry
  • Capitol
  • Catalogue Number CDMFP 6115
1995 Bobbie Gentry - The Hit Albums
  • Catalogue Number HA-860502
1998 The Golden Classics of Bobbie Gentry
  • Collectibles
  • Catalogue Number CD 5862
2000 The Capitol Years: Ode to Bobbie Gentry
2002 An American Quilt 1967-1974
  • Raven
  • Catalogue Number 1302


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Bobbie Gentry".  
  2. ^ a b "Chairborne Ranger Presents the Billboard Hot 100 Songs 1967". Chairborne Ranger.  
  3. ^ a b c "UK Top 40 Hit Database". Retrieved 2008-04-23.  
  4. ^ "Ode to Billie Joe". Allmusic.  
  5. ^ a b "Biography". Ode to Bobbie Gentry.  
  6. ^ "Sanremo 1968". HitParadeItalia.  
  7. ^ Morag Veljkovic, "Ode to Bobbie Gentry," After Dark Magazine monthly, July 1974
  8. ^ 1971 Grammy Awards
  9. ^ Ode to Billy Joe International Movie Database
  10. ^ Weisbard, Eric. Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music. New York: 2007.
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b Valter Ojakäär (1983) (in Estonian). Popmuusikast (On Pop Music). Eesti Raamat.  
  13. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 225. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.  

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