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July 27

Bobbie Gentry’s Tale of Unshared Grief in “Ode to Billie Joe”

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Bobbie Gentry's Tale of Unshared Grief in "Ode to Billie Joe" 1
Bobbie Gentry (BBC Radio)

Today, we celebrate Bobbie Gentry’s 73rd year of awesome existence. Happy Birthday, Bobbie!

Bobbie Gentry’s glamorous and bombshell image inspired the rise of country superstars Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Her songs and personality made her one of the most interesting figures to emerge in Nashville during the late ‘60s. Notably, she was one of the pioneers of the female artists who write and produce their own materials. She is best known for her crossover smash hit “Ode to Billie Joe” that forged an idiosyncratic and pop-inspired sound.

The countrified journey

Born Roberta Streeter on July 27, 1944, her songs typically drew on her Mississippi roots to compose vignettes of the Southern United States. Her parents divorced shortly after her birth. She grew up as a talented girl on her grandparent’s farm in Chickasaw County. Gentry will never forget that time when her grandmother traded one of the family’s milk cows for a piano. Overwhelmed and inspired, she wrote her first song, “My Dog Sergeant is a Good Dog.” She was seven years old back then.

As she attended school in Greenwood, Mississippi, she taught herself how to play the bass, guitar, banjo, and the vibraphone. At the age of 13, she moved to Arcadia, California to live with her mother. She then began performing in local country clubs. She got her stage surname in 1952 film, Ruby Gentry.

Bobbie Gentry's Tale of Unshared Grief in "Ode to Billie Joe" 2
Bobbie Gentry (shazam.com)

Ode to Billie Joe

Gentry settled in Las Vegas after graduating for high school. She kicked off her recording career in 1964. And in 1967, she rose to international fame with her intriguing Southern Gothic narrative “Ode to Billie Joe.” Her personally written song stages a family’s reaction to the Billie Joe McAllister suicide in Tallahatchie Bridge. The song takes the first-person narrative view of the young daughter of Mississippi Delta family. It highlights the subject of indifference and unshared grief. Gentry’s hit caused Tallahatchie Bridge to be most commonly visited by suicidal individuals.

For the record, “Ode to Billie Joe” became a number one hit in the US, and also a big international seller. It peaked number 3 on Billboard’s Song of the Year. Also, it won three Grammy awards for Gentry, and one for arranger Jimmie Haskell. The song is included on the list of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of all Time,” and Pitchfork’s “200 Best Songs of the 1960’s.”

Once again, Country Thang Daily extends a warm greeting to one of the finest ladies in the country music of her time. Happy birthday, Bobbie Gentry!

And folks, if you like to read more articles about our favorite country stars, check out the Country Thang Daily website or follow us on FacebookTwitterand Instagram.


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Bobbie Gentry, Ode to Billy Joe


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