On The Fringe
Roberta Streeter was born July 27, 1944 in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. She is best known for her 1967 chart topping hit, "Ode To Billie Joe." But, Bobbie Gentry sang that song, you say? You're absolutely correct. She took her stage name from the 1952 Charlton Heston/Jennifer Jones film Ruby Gentry.
In the late 50's Bobbie and her family moved from Mississippi to Palm Springs, California. She taught herself to play piano as a youngster. After moving to California, she taught herself to play the guitar and banjo. After high school, Bobbie attended UCLA as a philosophy major, but soon transferred to study at the L.A. Conservatory of Music.
Before making a career in the music industry, Gentry paid the bills with several different jobs ranging from secretary to nightclub performer and Las Vegas showgirl. Her first and only major hit was a song that she penned herself called "Ode To Billie Joe." There's an interesting story to how this song was recorded. It was originally intended as the "B side" of her first single recording, a blues number called "Mississippi Delta," on Capitol Records. "Ode To Billie Joe" was originally a seven minute recording with only Gentry's guitar backing the lyrics which told more of the story of what happened to Billie Joe at the Tallahatchie Bridge. After the original verson was finished, the label executives realized that this song was the better option for a single release. Thus, they went back into the studio with the string orchestra for backing and cut the song length almost in half. Cutting the length and lyrics provided the song with a mystical allure which left more to the listener's imagination about what really happened to Billie Joe. It also made it more suitable for radio airplay. The song went to #1 on the pop charts in August 1967 and stayed there for a month. It was a top 20 hit on the country charts and made it to #13 on the charts in the U.K. The album sold 3 million copies, but she only had moderate success after that with songs like "I Saw An Angel Die" and "Okolona River Bottom Band."
She won four Grammy awards in 1967; Best New Artist, Best Vocal Performance/Female, Best Contemporary Female Solo Vocal Performance and "Ode To Bille Joe" won Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist.
In the late 60's and early 70's, Gentry teamed up with Glen Campbell for a few duets. Their best known collaborations include "Less Of Me," "Mornin' Glory," and a couple of Everly Brothers covers, "Let It Be Me" and "All I Have to Do Is Dream."
Her chart successes in the U.K. prompted Gentry to appear on several British television shows, including four episodes of her self-titled variety show, "The Bobbie Gentry Show" during the summer of 1974.
After several short-lived marriages, Gentry retired from the music industry in the late 1970's. At last report, she was attempting a career in behind-the-scenes television production.
Click here to look for Bobbie Gentry's music.
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