“It was the 3rd of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.”
The verse above is the opening line of “Ode to Billie Joe,” a haunting song that captivated the entire country and made a young woman from Mississippi by the name of Bobbie Gentry an icon.
Gentry sang of a Mississippi family sitting around a dinner table discussing the suicide of Billie Joe McAllister and the mystery surrounding it. The single sold millions of copies and made it to the top of the music charts beating out the Beatles.
Thanks to her new found fame, the then 22-year-old singer found her way to Sin City to perform alongside the likes of Elvis and Tom Jones.
She enjoyed immense success for years to come, including multiple Grammy awards, a Vegas residency, a TV show titled The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour and chart-topping hits with Glen Campbell.
In 1981, Gentry dazzled during a performance on Bob Hope’s All-star Salute to Mother’s Day, then she vanished.
At the height of her career, Gentry stopped performing. She also quit recording new material, giving interviews and making public appearances. She didn’t release a statement or make any public announcements about going on hiatus or plans to retire. She simply disappeared without a trace.
The Search for Bobbie Gentry
Not only were Gentry’s fans still perplexed by the eerie “Ode to Billie Joe,” now they had another mystery on their hands: Where in the world is Bobbie Gentry?
At some point in the 1990s, rumor had it she was living in solitude in a creepy Addams Family-esque mansion on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, but of course, this was far from the truth.
Reporters from across the country took on the challenge to uncover the country icon’s whereabouts. Some came close but their efforts were to no avail – until recently.
Last year, a Washington Post journalist, Neely Tucker, claimed that he without a doubt “talked, for about 13 seconds, to Bobbie Gentry.” If the voice he exchanged words with over the phone was indeed Gentry’s then Tucker would be the first reporter in over 30 years to speak to the recluse.
Tucker also believes he has found the former country singer’s whereabouts, why she hid from the spotlight and how she managed to do it for as long as she did.
Speaking with author Tara Murtha, who penned Ode to Billie Joe, a 2015 biography of Gentry’s career, Tucker learned that the mysterious singer didn’t like the music industry.
“I think it’s simpler than it seems,” Murtha said. “She apparently didn’t like the music business, went on to other businesses and never missed the spotlight.”
It wasn’t too hard for Gentry to go into obscurity because she never revealed much about herself while in the public eye. She used a stage name instead of her real one, Roberta Lee Streeter, she also never disclosed her actual birth date and when the time came, she cut ties with almost everyone in the music industry.
After a long search, Tucker finally got confirmation from some real estate agents that the reclusive country-pop star may be living in a mansion down south.
A Mystery Solved?
Tucker revealed in his article that Gentry is currently living in an “8,000-square-foot house with a great pool” not too far from the Tallahatchie Bridge and the venue of her 1978 wedding to country singer Jim Stafford.
“Bobbie Gentry lives about a two-hour drive from the site of the Tallahatchie Bridge that made her so famous, in a gated community, in a very nice house that cost about $1.5 million,” wrote Tucker.
A hopeful Tucker tried to get in touch with Gentry, but after a few moments of silence, he only managed to get one sentence out of her before she hung up.
“There’s no one here by that name,”she said.
This was all the Washington Post writer needed to feel some sort of closure. This may not exactly be the answer we were hoping for but in some ways it is comforting to fans of the Mississippi Delta Queen.
Wherever Bobbie Gentry is now, we hope she is happy and healthy.