Editor’s Note: The following column by former Clarion Ledger columnist Billy Watkins originally appeared in the May 31, 2016, edition of the Clarion-Ledger.

Music fans know the importance of Friday.

“It was the 3rd of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.”

That is the opening line of one of music’s most discussed, examined and appreciated songs — “Ode to Billie Joe,”  written and performed by Bobbie Gentry, who was born in Mississippi’s Chickasaw County. When her parents divorced and her mother left for California, Gentry moved in with her grandparents in Leflore County, near Greenwood.

“Ode to Billie Joe” was selected by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 500 songs of all time. It went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and cracked the Top 10 on the Easy Listening and R&B charts. Billboard also rated it the No. 3 song of 1967.

Singer Bobbie Gentry poses for photographers outside the airport in Nashville in 1967.

She was only 22 when she recorded it. The tune earned Gentry three Grammy Awards — Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female; Best Solo Vocal Performance, Female; Best New Artist.

And here is one of those strange-but-true facts: “Ode to Billie Joe” was the B-side of Gentry’s first single. The A-side, which Gentry’s team at Capitol Records believed had the best chance of becoming a hit, was “Mississippi Delta,” a gritty, hard-driving song that was a complete opposite of “Ode to Billie Joe.”



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