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Still Missing Bobbie

Kenneth Avery is a Southern humorist with well over a thousand fans. The charm and wit in his writing span a nearly a decade.

Bobbie Gentry practicing her songs.

Bobbie Gentry practicing her songs.

Is it poetry? Or is it the cold truth? It's your call, but my opaque opinion is one of very deep sadness mixed with sudden loss and a young woman being thrust into her cold life without her early love, Billy Joe MacIllister. Nothing more can be made of the fictitious story written into the hit song, "Ode to Billy Joe," by the lovely, quiet-natured Bobbie Gentry.

People who still love "Ode to Billy Joe," can sing the lyrics of this song which tells a lot about Bobbie Gentry's touch of real life, good and tragic events. There is not one word of phrase in Gentry's song that was polished enough to become of higher intellect. "What you hear is what you get," Gentry said one time in an early interview.

If you are a first-time fan of Bobbie Gentry, you are now blessed to unlock (the first) great song that Gentry recorded, "Ode to Billy Joe."

Was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty delta day
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door "Y'all remember to wipe your feet"
And then she said "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge
Today Billie Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
__________________________________________Bobbie Gentry

By way of a glimpse backward, Bobbie Lee Gentry (born Roberta Lee Streeter; July 27, 1942) the American retired singer-songwriter who was one of the first female artists in America to compose and record her own material. Gentry rose to international fame in 1967 with her Southern Gothic narrative "Ode to Billie Joe". And to exert overkill, (this) record sold like hotcakes. Probably still do in 2022 via the internet sites that promote classic songs and groups.

The real Choctaw Bride and Robby Benson, the star of "Ode to Billy Joe."

The real Choctaw Bride and Robby Benson, the star of "Ode to Billy Joe."

Where is the Tallahatchie Bridge? You will find it on Grand Blvd, on the edge of Greenwood, Ms., it's a bridge over the Tallahatchie River that has a super- nice and informative two-sided historical marker regarding singer Bobbie Gentry, her general career, and the 1967 song and subsequent movie, "Ode to Billy Joe."

People were (and still are) magnetized by Bobbie Gentry who was born Roberta Lee Streeter on July 27, 1944 in Chickasaw County, Miss. Gentry touched briefly on her rural upbringing, saying, “We didn’t have electricity, and I didn’t have many playthings.”

Bobbie did have a musical history. In fact, a very deep and serious musical history. Gentry did From the gospel sounds of the local Baptist church to old folk songs, Bobbie quickly stuck to music and songs. “My grandmother noticed how much I liked music, so she traded one of her milk cows for a neighbor’s piano,” Gentry said. " she wrote her first song at age 7, a ditty called “My Dog Sergeant is a Good Dog.” After her parents divorced, a girl of 13-year-old, Bobbie moved to Palm Springs, Calif. with her mother, who quickly remarried. With the family’s improved income, Bobbie taught herself guitar, banjo, bass and vibes. She started playing gigs at a local country club, taking her stage name from Ruby Gentry, a movie about a poor, rural seductress.

There was this dark mystery created by Bobbie Gentry in her debut single “Ode To Billie Joe” which cast a spell over the entire country. To this day, there has not been any clear message to why MacAllister chose to end his life by sailing off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Gentry in one of her many photo shoots.

Gentry in one of her many photo shoots.

Gentry's backing of spare acoustic guitar chords and atmospheric strings, her sensual, Southern-fried voice relates the story of two Mississippi teenage lovers who share a dark secret that eventually leads to the Billy Joe's suicide. And over 40 years later, despite cinematic details in the song’s lyric, we still don’t know exactly what happened up there on Choctaw Ridge. It's not that people do not care, it's due to the lack of investigating professionals who made a good living unearthing the facts of this and more controversial mysteries.

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"Billy Joe MacAllister," was chosen to play that role by Robby Benson, a young actor with considerable credits to his name. One film that stood out was "Ice Castles." In Benson's film work and TV work of "Ode to Billy Joe," a Robby Benson fan can feel his passion in the script that he was given. To Benson, he did not just memorize the words, but got into his "Billy Joe" character which was fictional and Bobbie Gentry used this as a solid motivation to her hit in 1967 when "Ode to Billy Joe," hit the airways from coast to coast.

Robby Benson's talent and background is very interesting to say the least. Benson (born Robin David Segal; Jan. 21, 1956) is an American actor, singer, composer, teacher, and filmmaker. Benson's meteoric rise to fame and popularity as a teen idol in the late 1970s, appearing in the sports films "One on One" (1977) and "Ice Castles" (1978). He subsequently garnered more fame for portraying the voice of Beast in the Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast (1991) and its numerous sequels and spin-offs. He later forged a career in directing television, including six episodes of the sitcom Friends.

You have heard all about Bobbie Gentry and Robby Benson, but now please allow me to share with you on how I felt when I first heard Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe," on our friends' only rock station, WVOK-FM, Bessemer, Ala., and with the first slow chords of her song, she had me through and through.

I was walking through our home and listening to one of WVOK's air personalities, the now-late Joe Rumore, who aired Gentry's song and afterwards, he remarked, this song, and you can take this to the bank, is going to hit number one in days. Oh, how Rumore's prophecy came true. It wasn't long until teenagers (like myself) were calling in to whomever was on the air to play that song about Billy Joe and the Tallahatchie Bridge. May I say that this part of history is, without a doubt, hot as fire.

So what does all of this history about Bobbie Gentry have to do with me? Not as much as you'd think. I recall publishing a hub about "Why Jim Stafford Divorced Bobbie Gentry," and I recall just how much resentment that I had about his decision to go it alone in the entertainment world. Quite frankly, Stafford had a limited amount of songs and about the same time via TV and film, but I cannot recall one that he appeared in. I did remember the one time that he had an appearance on then-the nation's number one TV show: Hee Haw. Sorry, but when the producers let him play, I cannot remember it in 2022.

Frankly, if I had dated a goddess like Bobbie Gentry, and went on to have her as my companion, would I be as ignorant as to talk her into a divorce? Are you mad? What was Stafford thinking? I did read somewhere about (his) career needing a boost and after he married Bobbie, it helped him buy groceries for a time.

Even now in 2022, to me, Bobbie Gentry is still a queen to me. And always will be. If I could meet her for one day in a brief talk, I would tell her just how much that I have appreciated her then and now.

In 1967, I fell in love with Bobbie. And fell hard, friends. An honest confession is good for the soul as the adage goes, I am still in love with Bobbie.
Girls like Bobbie Gentry only come this way once. Not so with her "ex."

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© 2022 Kenneth Avery

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