Spotlight on ……
Roberta Lee Streeter (born July 27, 1944, Chickasaw
County, Mississippi), professionally known as Bobbie Gentry, is a former
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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".