Sunday, April 2, 2023

Vassallo: “It Was the Third of June”

Album cover of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe"
Album cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe”

Way back in the fall of 1967, I was hangin’ out at the Galtney Center (former Ole Miss Student Union) humming the lyrics of Bobbie Gentry’s classic hit…”Ode to Billie Joe.” The raven-haired beauty from Chickasaw County, Mississippi recorded this blockbuster on July 10, 1967.

The Ole Miss of 1967 as well as the state of Mississippi’s society in this lost era were as far apart today as Mars is from Pluto. What Bobbie Gentry accomplished in bringing that Mississippi to the national stage could only have been done via music and the lyrics that still are debated today. The original song was about seven minutes and then edited to four as the hit was first introduced on the “B” side of a 45 disc.

Having never visited the Tallahatchie Bridge or Choctaw Ridge, I can only speculate about the setting where Billie Joe MacAllister committed his fatal act. Through the years the debate continues as to why he jumped and what he and the young girl had thrown into the river days prior. We probably will never know what the songwriter actually was describing as the mystery will continue to linger every June 3rd.

Bobbie Gentry’s top forty megahit contributed greatly to the mystique of the Magnolia State that still persists today. The lyric “choppin cotton” in the song depicted a region where agriculture ruled and the rural way of life was unique and exciting in experiencing nature up close. Those of us who were raised in major metropolitan areas had no earthly idea what Bobbie was describing. We could only imagine.

So on this third of June, 2016 (a lifetime later) I rose this morning in my favorite place on earth, Oxford, Mississippi, humming those great lines: “It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.”

Thanks to Bobbie Gentry for this wonderful contribution to American and Southern music!

(Special gratitude to Wikipedia for the historical references.)

Steve Vassallo

Steve Vassallo is a contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at or call him at 985-852-7745.

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