We may never know the answer to the mystery of what Billie Joe McAllister threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge in the 1967 hit “Ode to Billie Joe.”
Because there’s only one person who knows the answer, and she’s just as big of a mystery herself.
The title track to Bobbie Gentry‘s debut album, “Ode to Billie Joe” would become her biggest hit and earn her eight Grammy nominations, along with three trophies. It also propelled Gentry into becoming one of the biggest artists of the late 1960s and early ’70s, releasing seven albums and charting 11 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
Gentry released an album of duets with labelmate and country music legend Glen Campbell, and hosted a series of variety shows on the BBC and The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour on CBS. She would write and record “Fancy,” which ultimately became one of Reba’s best-known hits when she re-recorded the song years later.
Between 1967-1970, Bobbie Gentry managed to rack up 7 ACM Award nominations, 3 CMA nominations, and 9 Grammy nods. She ultimately won 2 ACM awards and 3 Grammys.
But then in 1982 she just…disappeared.
Gentry’s final public appearance came at the ACM Awards on this day 40 years ago. She was 40 years old at the time, and apparently unhappy with life and a career as a public figure – and reportedly unhappy with how she was treated as a woman in the music business.
So she just gave it all up. Withdrew from the spotlight and went back to being just a regular person, although one who at one point was one of the biggest country music stars in the world.
And very few people even know where she lives.
It’s been reported that Gentry lives in Los Angeles now, but it’s also been reported that she’s living just outside of Memphis.
One reporter for the Washington Post claims to have talked to Gentry on the phone back in 2016 – but only briefly. According to the report, when the reporter called the number she managed to get for Gentry, who he claimed is indeed living outside of Memphis, a woman answered the phone. And when the reporter told her who he was and why he was calling, the woman on the other end of the line simply said “There’s no one here by that name” and hung up.
Wherever she is, she’s nearly impossible to get ahold of. Even Reba, had a massive hit with one of Gentry’s songs, can’t get ahold of her.
“I’ve never met her. I’ve never talked to her. I’ve talked to so many people who have gotten to work with her and know her and do stay in communication with her…I would say, ‘Hey, would you tell her that I’d really like to meet her sometime or talk to her or email or text or smoke signals or anything? I don’t care. I’d just really like to communicate with her.’”
There’s have only been a couple of known photos of Gentry surface since her fade back into obscurity.
There’s a photo on Getty Images of Gentry and producer David Gest that purports to be from 1985, three years after she was last seen publicly.
And another one surfaced without much context, but we do at least know what Gentry looks like these days:
There have been reports that Gentry may be interested in getting back into the music business at some point, with author Tara Murthy telling the LA Times:
“She does make phone calls and sets up appointments with people from time to time, but always cancels them. So maybe one day the mood will strike.”
It’s been 40 years today since Bobbie Gentry’s last public appearance, and apparently the mood to change that hasn’t struck yet.
Maybe one day we’ll finally get to find out where she’s been and what she’s been up to after all these years.
Or maybe we’ll just have to let our imagination fill in the gaps, just like we do with whatever Billie Joe McAllister threw off the Tallahatchie bridge.