The year was 1978. After a Christmas Eve appearance on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," nobody saw Bobbie Gentry again. Since she hadn't had a Top 10 hit since "Fancy" in 1970, she wasn't exactly missed. By the time people began asking "Whatever Became of…" she had put up an effective barrier that kept her privacy intact. She wasn't big enough, (or her new life interesting enough) for the heavy tabloids to bother. As for fans, those knowing her whereabouts respect her too much to even sneak a snapshot of how she's looking these days.
Gentry was born Roberta Streeter. She took her last name from the strong film character "Ruby Gentry" played by Jennifer Jones. She seemed to come out of nowhere in 1967 with the #1 hit "Ode to Billie Joe." The song was originally over 7 minutes long, a demo with guitar. Capitol edited it down to make it into a single, subtracting enough verses to make the song much more mysterious, and adding the string arrangement that made it even more dramatic.
Bobbie walked away with four Grammy awards that year including Best New Artist, Best Vocal Performance/Female, and the somewhat similar Best Contemporary Female Solo Vocal Performance. There was also a Grammy for "Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist."
Sultry and smart, she recorded some pretty interesting songs on her albums, and tried to challenge Top 40 radio now and then (how about "Casket Vignette.") But…her popularity in 1968-1970 was mostly due to a set of duets with Glen Campbell, including "All I Have to Do is Dream." Her single "Fancy" was only the second (and last) time she had a solo hit in America. Also in 1970, "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" grazed the UK Top 40.
"But I Can't Get Back" was the prophetic title of the single released in support of her album "Patchwork" in 1971. It hit #37 in the US, didn't do much overseas, and disc jockeys didn't see her name on much vinyl after that. In 1974, she spent the summer in England starring in a limited (four episode) run of "The Bobbie Gentry Show." And yes, four years later…she issued the Dahlstrom-penned single, appeared on "The Tonight Show," and disappeared.
Gone, but hardly forgotten. She's missed by both male and female fans. Jill Sobule, everyone's favorite Jewish lesbian singer/songwriter, may have offered the best tribute. It's her song, "Where is Bobbie Gentry," and here are some choice lines:
Where is Bobbie Gentry?
Up in Alaska, Hollywood, or maybe in Japan
I bet that she’s still beautiful, goes barefoot everywhere she can
Does she still play guitar or write a song or two?
Maybe that was over; she’s got better things to do
If I could just find you
I would love you, then I’d leave you alone
If I could just find you
I would love you and I’d leave you alone
HE DID ME WRONG... But He Did It Right