The Mystery of Bobbie Gentry

Where is Bobbie Gentry?Roberta Lee Streeter, who later took the stage name Bobbie Gentry, was born in Chickasaw County, Mississippi on July 27, 1944.  Best known for the song “Ode to Billie Joe,” the singer-songwriter eventually became almost as mysterious as the song.

Bobbie Gentry released her first single, “Mississippi Delta,” in 1967.  But it was the flip-side song, “Ode to Billie Joe” that became the hit. There are various reports that the four-minutes-plus song was originally written as a seven-minute song with extra lyrics, although others doubt that story.

Ode To Billie Joe, the album that featured the song, also became a hit.  It replaced The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the number one position on the Billboard Albums Chart.

The Mysteries of “Ode to Billie Joe”

Listeners loved “Ode to Billie Joe” partly because it left so many questions unanswered.  The song tells the story of two Mississippi teen lovers who share a secret, with the young man, Billie Joe MacAllister, committing suicide by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

In the song, the young woman listens to her parents talk about Billie Joe.  The parents do not know what the listeners understand about the young woman’s connection to the young boy.

Fans still debate what the girl and the boy earlier threw off the bridge.  But Gentry has stated that the item is not the point of the song.

Gentry explained to Fred Bronson in an interview, “[T]he real message of the song, if there must be a message, revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. They sit there eating their peas and apple pie and talking, without even realizing that Billie Joe’s girlfriend is sitting at the table, a member of the family.”

Below, Bobby Gentry performs “Ode to Billie Joe” on BBC Live in 1968.

The year “Ode to Billie Joe” was released, Gentry won three Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist.  Rolling Stone today lists “Ode to Billie Joe” as the 47th greatest country song of all time.

Gentry’s Career After “Ode to Billie Joe”

After “Ode,” Gentry continued to write and record songs like “Fancy” (later covered by Reba McIntyre).

Gentry hosted a TV show on BBC-TV. Below is an episode of The Bobbie Gentry Show from 1968.

The 1970s was the era of variety shows, and Gentry appeared on several of them.  For example, she appeared with The Smothers Brothers and on Dick Van Dyke’s 1976 show Van Dyke and Company. In 1974 she even hosted her own summer replacement CBS variety show, The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour.

Below, Gentry sings “Let it Be Me” with Glen Campbell on and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in 1969.

Gentry re-recorded “Ode to Billie Joe” for the 1978 movie Ode to Billie Joe.  The film was directed by Max Baer, Jr. and starred Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor.

In 1978, Gentry decided to retire and married singer-comedian Jim Stafford.  The marriage ended after about a year, but the retirement was more lasting.  In the last several decadees, Gentry has stayed out of the public eye and denied requests for interviews.

In a June 2016 Washington Post story, reporter Neely Tucker wrote of efforts to find Gentry.  The reporter tracked down Gentry in a gated community about a two-hour drive from the location of the Tallahatchie Bridge, which had collapsed in 1972.

The reporter called the number of the house and asked for Gentry.  The person who answered said that Gentry did not live there and hung up, although the reporter believed the person speaking was Gentry.

So we do not know much about Bobbie Gentrie during the last several decades.  But she is entitled to her privacy, just as we can be thankful she entertained us and gave us some great recordings, including one of the most mysterious songs of all time.

Singer-songwriter Jill Sobule (“I Kissed a Girl”) even took the mystery about Bobby Gentry and turned it into a song.  Her song “Where is Bobbie Gentry?” is, of course, in the style of “Ode to Billie Joe.”

Wherever Bobbie Gentry is now, we wish her a happy and peaceful birthday.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Best Movie Narrated By a Plastic Bag With the Voice of Werner Herzog

    Werner Herzog Plastic Bag

    I ran across this 18-minute film called Plastic Bag that Ramin Bahrani directed, wrote, and edited. Despite what you might expect from the title of the 2009 film, the movie is not about the recent environmental debate about plastic bags.  Instead, it is about what it means to be human.

    The gravity of the film’s themes is amplified by the narration of famous director Werner Herzog.  The addition of Herzog’s voice to anything makes it sound important.

    Open Culture reports that Plastic Bag was one of several films “released in the Internet Television Service’s Futurestates film series exploring ‘what life might look like in an America of the future.'”

    When he was asked to do the narration, Herzog recognized that the short film is about something more than a piece of plastic or arguments about plastic bags.  As he explained to The Guardian, “the movie’s about something else, something more … it’s about a journey.”

    The film reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001).  Plastic Bag takes something non-human, and it discovers something human in the act of taking a journey to find meaning.

    You may find the existential movie funny. Or you may find it strange.  Or you may find it touching.  But Plastic Bag is worth a few minutes of your time.  Check it out.

    What do you think of Plastic Bag? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Apollo 11 Lands On the Moon

    Aldrin on the Moon (with Armstrong reflected in visor)
    Aldrin on Moon (Armstrong in visor)

    On July 20, 1969, astronauts in the Apollo 11 Mission landed on the moon, and the first humans walked on another world.  People from around the world watched on live television in breathless anticipation of one of humankind’s great accomplishments, which still seems amazing looking back at the level of technology across nearly half a century ago.

    On that date, the Lunar Module Eagle separated from the Command Module Columbia, which was being piloted by Michael Collins.  On board the Eagle were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

    NASA had originally planned for the astronauts to sleep after the Eagle landed.  But with everyone wanting to move forward, Armstrong and Aldrin instead began preparing to walk on the moon.

    After several hours, Armstrong emerged from the hatch.  As he took the first step on the moon, he uttered the famous words: “”That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    Many listeners did not hear the word “a” that Armstrong meant to say, which affects the meaning of the sentence.  So experts still debate whether or not he said the word.

    About twenty minutes after Armstrong’s first step, Aldrin joined him on the moon.  The two men spent 21 hours, 36 minutes on the moon’s surface before the Eagle ascended to join the Columbia for the trip back to earth.

    This short NASA video features footage that television viewers saw during the landing.  To really appreciate the accomplishment, try to take yourself back to 1969 when the outcome was uncertain. And remember when we recognized that human beings could do some pretty amazing things.

    Where were you when people first walked on the moon? Leave your two cents in the comments. Photo via public domain.

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    “The Magnificent Seven” Trailer With Denzel Washington

    Magnificent Seven Trailer The new trailer for The Magnificent Seven (2016) has me cautiously optimistic that the movie will do justice to the very good original film from 1961. That movie starred Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson. The new film also features a great cast, with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, and Haley Bennett. From the trailer though, it looks like the movie is largely a Washington and Pratt show.

    Antoine Fuqua, who previously directed Training Day (2001) and King Arthur (2004), directs the new film. From the trailer, it seems he at least roughly follows the story of the 1961 film, which was directed by John Sturges. That film, in turn was based on the great Japanese film, Seven Samurai (1954), which was directed by Akira Kurosawa.

    The trailer shows a widow (Bennett) seeking help to get vengeance for her husband’s death. As in the original The Magnificent Seven, the new trailer indicates one thing leads to another, so that the rag-tag band of seven has to stand up against an army to protect a town. Check out the trailer below.

    The Magnificent Seven heads into theaters on September 23, 2016.

    What do you think of the trailer? Leave your two cents in the comments?

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    Why Is “Unchained” In the Title of “Unchained Melody”?

    unchained melody origins

    One of the great songs of the 1960s is The Righteous Brothers recording of “Unchained Melody,” a song that has been covered by many great stars, including Elvis Presley. But The Righteous Brothers were not the first to record the song. And why is the song called “Unchained Melody” when the word “unchained” occurs nowhere in the song?

    Although The Righteous Brother version was released on July 17, 1965, “Unchained Melody” had its origins decades earlier. Songwriter Alex North worked on the music in the 1930s, and at one time Bing Crosby turned down the opportunity to record an unfinished version of the song.

    The Movie That Gave the Song Its Name

    But North did not give up on the music. In the 1950s he and Hy Zaret were contracted to write a song for a prison movie. With Zaret adding lyrics to the music, the two came up with the completed song for the 1955 film, which was called Unchained. Hence, the song from the movie became known as “Unchained Melody.”

    The movie Unchained was about an inmate who struggles with the decision of whether or not to try to escape.  Todd Duncan recorded the song on the soundtrack and he appeared in the film as a prisoner singing part of the song.

    Duncan had the chops for the song.  He was the first black singer to join the New York City Opera when he performed there in 1945. Below is the clip from Unchained with Duncan singing “Unchained Melody.”

    The Righteous Brothers Hit

    Others recorded versions of the song before The Righteous Brothers. Performers who recorded “Unchained Melody” included bandleader Les Baxter, Al Hibler, and Jimmy Young.

    Of course, the version we know best is by The Righteous Brothers.  But the original recording did not include both brothers.  It featured only Bobby Hatfield and did not include the other “brother” Bill Medley.

    After the song was a hit in 1965, it once again climbed the charts in the early 1990s after it was featured in another movie, Ghost (1990). We should be glad that the song was first featured in Unchained. Otherwise, we would be calling it “Ghost Melody.”

    And that’s the story behind the song.

    What is your favorite version of “Unchained Melody”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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