Friday (Sept. 25) marked the unofficial kickoff of Christmas music season. As expected, we got albums by country music stars Carrie Underwood and Janie Fricke. There was a pleasant surprise popping up on Spotify and YouTube, as well: Bobbie Gentry's version of Christian folk hymn "I Wonder as I Wander," as performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In the same year that Gentry's hit single "Ode to Billie Joe" knocked fellow Capitol Records act The Beatles off the top of the pop charts, she appeared on the Christmas Eve edition of the late night TV show that introduced the Fab Four to the states.
Per TV.com, Gentry also performed "Niki Hoeky" on an episode which also features The Cowsills' holiday song medley, Arthur Godfrey and The Muppets' "It's Christmas Tomorrow" and a standup routine by George Carlin.
Gentry's name sparks two evergreen discussions: What exactly got tossed off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and why did the Mississippi Delta native and "Fancy" singer abruptly leave the public eye? Yet her legacy goes beyond those talking points. Within a few years of her Ed Sullivan Show debut, Gentry had a successful Las Vegas residency and was the host of her own CBS variety show, The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour. Other popular TV series featuring Gentry as a guest included Kraft Music Hall, The Johnny Cash Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Carol Burnett Show, The Perry Como Show and BBC programs The Tom Jones Show and Top of the Pops.
As for that gorgeous song choice, the great American balladeer John Jacob Niles pieced "I Wonder as I Wander" together in the '30s from song fragments. It has appeared on Christmas albums by Barbra Streisand and Vanessa Williams.