The next song to go all the way to the top of the pop record charts in 1967 was really a country song. “Ode to Billie Joe” was written and performed by Bobbie Gentry (birth name: Roberta Lee Streeter). The song leaves a person wondering what really happened. What did Billie Joe and his girlfriend throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge and why did Billie Joe commit suicide? Gentry has always left it to each person’s imagination. The 1976 movie “Ode to Billy Joe” (note different spelling) has the suicide as being caused by the conflict between his love for Bobbie Lee Hartley and his emerging homosexuality. Even after the release of the movie, Gentry wouldn’t say if it was her intent or not.
“Ode to Billie Joe” was on the top of both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Cash Box record chart for 4 weeks (Aug. 20 – Sept. 16). On Billboard’s Country Singles chart, the song only made it up to #17. Gentry won Grammy Awards for “Best New Artist” and “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance” in 1968.
Bobbie Gentry had a night club act in Las Vegas which ran for many years. She wrote and arranged the music and also produced and choreographed that show. In 1974 she had a summer replacement show, The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour, on CBS TV. She retired from show business completely in the early 1980s.