Remember Which Country Star Just Disappeared Into Thin Air?
Bobbie Gentry carved out a career as one of the most successful country and crossover female artists of her era, but then she simply vanished without a trace.
Born Roberta Lee Streeter on July 27, 1944, Gentry learned multiples instruments while growing up in Mississippi, and began performing and honing a sound after she moved to California at age 13. She began to establish herself with some encouragement from Bob Hope, taking the stage name Bobbie Gentry from the 1952 film Ruby Gentry, which tells the story of a southern girl who was born into poverty but determined to make it in high society.
In 1967, she scored a worldwide hit with "Ode to Billie Joe," making her one of the very first female artists to write her own music. The song was a hit across multiple radio formats, including country, and in 1967 Gentry won Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She was also named the Academy of Country Music's Most Promising Female Vocalist.
For the next decade-plus Gentry was a fixture in multiple genres, scoring additional country hits including "Fancy," which Reba McEntire would revive in 1991. The song about a young woman whose mother encourages her to escape their life of poverty by working as a high-class courtesan was especially challenging in 1969 when she wrote and released it.
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Gentry would go on to enjoy further country success with several duets with Glen Campbell, and she also hosted a popular variety show on network television, as well as writing, producing and choreographing a splashy show in Las Vegas.
Gentry became more and more disenchanted with the music business as time went on, and after the failure of her 1978 single "He Did Me Wrong But He Did It Right," she decided to retire from show business, giving her last public performances in two TV appearances in 1981. Gentry made no public announcement of her retirement; instead, she simply disappeared, and the circumstances surrounding her disappearance have grown into mythological proportions in the decades since.
There have been rumors and reports of sightings, but even some family members have said that they do not know how to contact Gentry. In 2016, a Washington Post reporter claimed to have tracked Gentry down to a gated community outside of Memphis, where she has reportedly been living since 2010. Reached by phone, she refused to speak with him, and it's unconfirmed whether it was really the singer or not. Now 78, Gentry has steadfastly refused to grant interviews or confirm any details about her life today since her retirement in 1981.
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