Ode to Bobbie Gentry

June third, June third.

Something I was supposed to do today … a work meeting? No. Snack day at school? No. Dentist appointment? No.

What was it?

Sitting down at my desk, it hit me as soon as I cranked up the Spotify.

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.

I was supposed to listen to Bobbie Gentry.

Remember her?

Bobbie Gentry’s classic Ode to Billie Joe changed music forever from the first line, “It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.”

Bobbie Gentry sang Ode to Billie Joe. More importantly, Bobbie Gentry wrote Ode to Billie Joe. Bobbie Gentry was and is a songwriting and storytelling genius. She disappeared from the limelight, most likely by choice.

I am a latecomer to Gentry fandom, by no means an expert, and learn something new with every foray into the available material. And more mentions seem to find their way into my sphere, either by coincidence, promotion of recent reissues, or algorithm. For a comprehensive dive, see Cocaine and Rhinestones’ “Bobbie Gentry: Exit Stage Left”  but first clear the next hour and a half because you won’t be able to tear yourself away.

Lucinda Williams recently recalled the first time she heard Gentry (and this would link right to her Facebook post if the code was working): “When I was a teenager there were all these amazing female singers I was listening to but they were all folk singers with these amazing high range voices. And I was frustrated because I couldn’t really sing like that. Then along came Bobbie Gentry and that was it everything changed. Not just how she sounded – my god that voice, all low and smoky, I could relate to that, but also how she looked; I think it was the first album cover, black eyeliner, tight jeans and a little white t-shirt…wow. And of course the songs, Southern Gothic like i’d never heard. It was like the first time all the guys heard Elvis. I had found my own Elvis.”

This devoted reporter for the Clarion Ledger newspaper in Mississippi has never stopped searching for Bobbie Gentry (more here).

Remember her? Of course we do. No one forgot about Bobbie Gentry except maybe institutions like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the patriarchy.

Has she gotten the credit she’s due? No. Does she care? Probably not.

Should we care as feminists and as music fans? Of course! What can we do individually and collectively to celebrate and continue Bobbie Gentry’s legacy?

We can declare the third of June to be Bobbie Gentry Day, if only in a personal tribute. As worker bees, we can turn on Ode to Billie Joe on our own highway commutes,  during a day of data entry, or later on an evening run.

Today I listened to her top hits, the new Delta Sweete tribute album, including Lucinda Williams’ Ode to Billie Joe, and then dove into last year’s release of The Girl from Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters. Somewhere in the middle of the eight-disc set, Bobbie Gentry covers the Beatles’ Fool on the Hill. In Japanese.

Give it a spin. Her catalog withstood the test of time. It’s still unique. Chances are, you’ve never heard anything like it.

Could we take it up a notch and dress every June 3 in iconic Bobbie outfits like the powder-blue pantsuit from the cover of her duet album with Glen Campbell? Dare we suggest a festival with tribute bands? We can dream.

Where is Bobbie Gentry today? I like to think she’s living somewhere in fabulous anonymity, waking up every June 3 with a secret, knowing smile, and maybe cranking up Ode to Billie Joe on her own car stereo.

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