Back in the 1960s, female artists generally did not know how or at least were not allowed by their record labels, to compose and produce material by themselves. This was the norm of the time until Bobbie Gentry became one of the first female artists to break that trend, thanks to her exceptional talent that led to the creation of songs like “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Fancy”, among others. Join us as we take a look at the person behind the talent, her achievements, personal life, and other endeavors.
On the 27th of July, 1942, in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, Bobbie Gentry, whose birth name is Roberta Lee Streeter, was born to Ruby Lee (nee Shipman) and Robert Harrison Streeter. Shortly after her birth, her parents divorced, leaving Gentry to be raised mostly by her paternal grandparents on their farm as her mother moved to California.
From a very young age, Gentry was said to have shown a love for music. Because of this, her grandmother traded one of the family’s milk cows for a piano that was owned by their neighbor. With this, Gentry was able to compose her first ever song at the age of 7. She went on to teach herself how to play other musical instruments such as the bass, banjo, and guitar as she attended elementary school.
At around the age of 13, Bobbie Gentry reunited with her mother when she moved to Arcadia, California to live with her. Here, she attended Palm Valley School, graduating in 1960, before going ahead to pursue a musical career, although she had also hoped to continue her education. The young aspiring singer began performing at local country clubs as she moved to Los Angeles to study Philosophy at the University of California, LA.
Gentry supported herself in school with clerical jobs as well as with her club performances and work as a model. She later transferred to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to develop her composition and performing skills before making her recording debut in 1966 in two duets with singer Joey Reynolds and the rest became history.
According to the Celebrity Net Worth website, Bobbie Gentry has an estimated net worth of $100 million. The talented singer and songwriter is said to have made most of her wealth from her career in music, which is said to still pay her royalties today. The multiple Grammy Award winner has reportedly received more than $3 million in royalties from singer Reba McEntire’s 1991 cover hit of her song “Fancy”.
She has further received more than $50 million from the movie Ode to Billie Joe (1976), which is based on her life. It is reported that Gentry demanded 10% of the profits generated by the movie and 15% of future royalties that it will generate through TV syndication and other sales, all of which has today totaled to the said figure.
In addition to her earnings from music, Gentry, who was one of the original owners of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, holding partial ownership from 1968 until 1987, is said to own tens of millions of dollars worth of real estate across the United States, but mainly in the state of California.
Family – Spouse, Son
Bobbie Gentry has not been successful in any of her three marriages as they were all short-lived and ended in divorce. Her first marriage was to the late businessman and founder of Harrah’s Hotel and Casinos, William F. Harrah, on the 18th of December, 1969. Harrah, who was at the time a two-time divorcee, was 33 years older than his wife when they exchanged vows. Their marriage went on to last for only five months after which they were granted a divorce in April 1970.
Gentry next shot at marriage came six years later, on the 17th of August, 1976, with a businessman named Thomas R. Toutant. This union proved to be her longest one as it lasted for two years before they divorced on the 1st of August, 1978. A few months later, on the 15th of October, 1978, she jumped back into married life with musician and comedian Jim Stafford. The two had a son named Tyler Gentry Stafford before divorcing just short of one year to their anniversary. Gentry has since then not remarried and there are no reports of any subsequent relationships afterward.
Where is She Now? Is She Alive?
Bobbie Gentry is reportedly still alive, as it was reported in a Washington Post article in 2016, that she was living a private life in a gated community in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. In 1981, Gentry opted to retire from performing after losing interest in it. She managed to pull an almost impossible disappearing act as she stepped away from the public eye and has since that time not granted an interview.