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The secret life of Bobbie Gentry


Today, established artists can smoothly jump from one genre to the next and their fans will follow. Pop and rock were starting to get experimental in the late ’60s and early ’70s when Gentry was joining the music scene, and groups like the Beatles re-invented themselves at every turn. But country music followed steadfast if unofficial rules. Male singers donned rhinestone-covered suits, women wore gigantic dresses and mile-high hairdos, and most everybody sang schmaltzy songs when they weren’t singing ones about cheatin’ hearts. 

Bobbie Gentry disrupted all that. Despite coming up in that world, she wasn’t the typical country music artist in looks or sound — she wore miniskirts, and she was loathe to even call herself a country artist. “I just sing southern,” Gentry once said, according to The Guardian. Although “Ode to Billie Joe” seems to be Southern Gothic, a genre of literature associated with writers like Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, her sound did have country elements — but it also had some rock, soul, psychedelic, folk, and pop components, too. Being innovative is certainly great, but it’s hard for big record companies to effectively or easily market artists who break the mould, especially in an industry that seeks to put everyone in a clearly labeled box. Being a forward-thinking artist, ironically, may have hurt Gentry’s career prospects.


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