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Bobbie Gentry Biography

Bobbie Gentry Biography

Roberta Lee Streeter, professionally known as Bobbie Gentry, is an American singer-songwriter of partial Portuguese ancestry. Her parents divorced shortly after her birth, and she was raised by her father in poverty on her grandparents' farm in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. After her grandmother traded one of the family's milk cows for a neighbor's piano, seven-year-old Bobbie composed her first song, "My Dog Sergeant Is a Good Dog". She attended elementary school in Greenwood, Mississippi, and began teaching herself to play guitar, bass, and banjo. At 13, she moved to Arcadia, California to live with her mother, Ruby Bullington Streeter. Roberta Streeter graduated from Palm Valley School in 1960. She chose the stage name Bobbie Gentry from the film Ruby Gentry and began performing at local country clubs. Encouraged by the Palm Springs celebrity Bob Hope, she performed in a revue of Les Folies Bergère nightclub of Las Vegas. Gentry moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA as a philosophy major and worked in clerical jobs, occasionally performing at local nightclubs. She later transferred to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to hone her composition and performing skills. In 1964, she made her recorded debut, cutting a pair of duets — "Ode to Love" and "Stranger in the Mirror" — with rockabilly singer Jody Reynolds. Gentry was one of the first female country artists to write and produce her own material. She forged her own idiosyncratic, pop-inspired sound, with a unique guitar sound and her own singing and phrasing style that was supported by her glamorous, bombshell image.

She wrote much of her own material, drawing on her Mississippi roots to compose revealing vignettes that typically explored the lifestyles and values of the Southern United States culture. Favoring more soulful and rootsy arrangements over the lavish countrypolitan style in vogue in Nashville, Tennessee, at the time, Bobbie Gentry's albums Ode to Billie Joe, The Delta Sweete, Local Gentry, Touch'Em With Love and Fancy sounded quite unlike anything on either the country or pop charts at her time. Her smoky, sensuous voice adapted easily to a variety of musical contexts. Her songs cut the path for more country story-songs. Her act anticipated the rise of latter-day crossover country artists Shania Twain and Faith Hill. With her U.S. #1 album, Ode to Billie Joe, and its Southern Gothic storytelling title track, she won the Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammy awards in 1968. "Ode to Billie Joe" was the fourth most popular song in the United States in 1967. Bobbie Gentry charted nine singles in Billboard Hot 100 and four singles in the U.K. Top 40. After her first albums, she turned towards the variety show genre. After losing her popularity in the 1970s, she quit performing and started to live reclusively in Los Angeles.

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