The song “Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbie Gentry was a big hit for many weeks in 1967. As to what “the girl that looked a lot like you” and Billy Joe McAllister were throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge has remained one of the open questions of pop music. Whatever your guess is, Bobbie Gentry, who wrote and performed the song, says it doesn’t really matter. Her point was the indifference with which we sometimes receive tragic news of others. In 1967, the song went to #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, #7 on the Easy Listening Chart, and #8 on the R&B Singles Chart. The great string arrangement by Jimmie Haskell adds to the drama of the song. Haskell used two cellos and four violins, which are especially cinematic at the end of the song as the music swirls downwards. The song won her Grammy awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1968.
Bobbie Gentry is a singer/songwriter and musician, who was born Roberta Lee Streeter in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. She chose her stage name from the 1952 movie Ruby Gentry, which starred Jennifer Jones, Charlton Heston, and Karl Malden. In the film, the heroine is born into a poor family but wants to be successful. Gentry has had 11 singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and four on the Top 40 in the U.K. She also had some singles with Glen Campbell, including “Let It Be Me” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream.”