If you are of a certain age, you can’t help but remember “Ode to Billie Joe,” that mysterious song about a girl jumping off a bridge. Written and performed by the hitherto unknown Bobbie Gentry (pictured), it was a huge international hit in 1967 and sticks in the memory of anyone who heard it back then (it was never off the radio) or since (people still argue about what the lyric really meant: was the friend gay?).
In a radio documentary, “Whatever Happened To Bobbie Gentry?,” singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash traces Gentry’s career, a rocketing rise to fame, Las Vegas headliner at the same time as Elvis and Tom Jones, and then her withdrawal from both the music scene and public life. (The show is on BBC’s Radio 2, at 5 pm EST today, and you can get to a feed of that station here.)
Producer Henry Lopez-Real has gone to some pains to find strong contributors. But it’s the choice of Cash as narrator that’s impressive, her own darkly personal songs a significant reflection of how Gentry changed the tide of country music for later female artists.