Music

Remember When Bobbie Gentry Walked Away?

The tenuous nature of fame means that several artists have walked away from the ACM Awards never to be seen again, but Bobbie Gentry may be the only country singer to have done it so deliberately.

On April 29, 1982, Gentry (then age 39) vanished. There was no farewell tour, final album or note about her plans — the “Ode to Billie Joe” singer just quietly canceled all upcoming appearances and never stepped into the spotlight again. Attempts to talk to her, meet with her or even figure out where (or if) she’s living have been denied.

“I’ve never met her. I’ve never talked to her,” Reba McEntire told media in 2020. Thirty years prior she’d turned Gentry’s “Fancy” into a major country music hit, but that didn’t do enough to earn a meeting or even a phone call.

“I talked to so many people who have gotten to work with her and know her and do stay in communication with her and I would say, ‘Hey, would you tell her that I’d really like to meet her sometime or talk to her or email or text or smoke signals or anything.’ I don’t care, I’d just really like to communicate with her,” McEntire said at the time.

By 1982, it had been more than a decade since Gentry had released an album, but she still had not lost her footing in the music community. Her Las Vegas show was successful. Fans still knew her as the “Ode to Billie Joe” singer, which, at that time, was more famous (and controversial) than “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X is today.

During the 17th-annual ACM Awards in Las Vegas, Gentry showed up but did not win an award or perform. This may be the last public picture of her, taken at the show:

Ron Galella Collection via Getty

“She’s a mystery woman,” McEntire says.

She is a mystery woman, although recent reporting by the Washington Post and Medium have pulled back more layers. It would appear Gentry was still alive as of 2018 and likely living near Memphis. Wouldn’t it be something if she returned for one final bow?

“Bobbie’s disappearance, whilst fascinating to the public, has come at a price,” Gentry archivist Andrew Batt told Medium in 2018. “Without her presence and the renewed celebrity that would engender, her reputation has suffered.”

Indeed, the conversation around Gentry is around the mystery, not her influential music and groundbreaking sense of business. Is she a Country Music Hall of Famer? Debatable, but at least exhibit in her honor is long overdue.

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