Born on March 28, 1954, outside Kiowa, OK; daughter of Clark (a cattle rancher and rodeo steer roper) and Jacqueline (a teacher); married Charlie Battles (a rancher), 1976; divorced, 1987; married Narvel Blackstock (a musician and artist manager), 1989; children: (first marriage) two stepsons; (second marriage) Shelby (son); three stepchildren. Education: Degree in elementary education (with minor in music), Southeastern Oklahoma State University, c. 1974. Addresses: Record company--MCA Records, 1514 South St., Nashville, TN 37212. Management--Starstruck Entertainment, P.O. Box 121996, Nashville, TN 37212. Website--Reba McEntire Official Website: http://www.reba.com.
While Reba McEntire built her reputation on traditional country music, she branched out from these roots soon after earning a few gold records. Since then, her music has blurred the lines between country and mainstream pop, and she has made forays into soul and even rhythm and blues. No matter the material, it is McEntire's remarkable voice that has made her, in the words of Stereo Review's Alanna Nash, "arguably the finest female country singer since Patsy Cline," or as Time dubbed her, the "velvet-throated diva of country music." In 2004 she acquired the distinction of boasting the longest number one hit single span of any female country artist.
McEntire was born on March 28, 1954, and raised on a 7,100-acre cattle ranch ten miles outside of Kiowa, Oklahoma. Both her father and grandfather were champion steer ropers, the former a three-time world champion. McEntire's mother was a singer, but unlike the men in the family, did not get a chance to pursue her art professionally. Instead, she taught her children to sing. The McEntire children spent a lot of time on the road, singing and following the rodeo circuit. Reba started her professional career early--at five--performing "Jesus Loves Me" for five cents in a hotel lobby. Throughout school she sang with her siblings, the Singing McEntires, in neighboring towns and at rodeos. McEntire also honed her skills with the barrel race--a rodeo obstacle course--at which she competed across the country. She attended Southeastern Oklahoma State University, intending to become an elementary school teacher. While studying, she continued to race, ranch, and sing.
In 1974 McEntire got an unexpected break--singing the national anthem at the National Rodeo Finals. Her performance impressed country music star Red Steagall, who convinced her to record a demo tape. In 1975 McEntire signed with Mercury Records. She wowed observers at her first recording session. According to Entertainment Weekly, "Her clear contralto was so big it nearly blew out the studio transistors." McEntire remembered the event this way: "It was a real pretty ballad, and when I got to the powerful part, I stayed right on the microphone and the needles just disappeared. They asked me to back up."
Recorded First Album
As her career took off, McEntire married Charlie Battles--another national steer wrestling champion and rancher--who managed her career while they also ran a cattle ranch in Oklahoma. She recorded a few singles, but they didn't go far. Mercury released her first album, Reba McEntire, in 1978, but she only had minor hits until she teamed with singer Jacky Ward to record a number of duets. Throughout the early 1980s, McEntire could not hit number one. To Nash, the reasons were obvious; executives at Mercury "tried their darnedest to obscure McEntire's natural assets," packaging a "genuine country article" as a "city sophisticate." In spite of these marketing gaffs, McEntire finally hit the top spot in 1983 with "I Can't Even Get the Blues" and "You're the First Time I've Thought About Leaving," and pleased critics with the record Behind the Scenes.
However, little changed until McEntire took her career into her own hands and in 1983 moved to MCA where she began choosing her own material. In 1984 she released the aptly titled My Kind of Country. The album was, in the words of People's Ralph Novak, "straightforward country." Billboard dubbed McEntire "the finest woman country singer since Kitty Wells," and reviewers likened her to her idol, Patsy Cline. My Kind of Country produced two number-one hits--"How Blue" and "Somebody Should Leave"--and was McEntire's first gold album. Nineteen eighty-four also brought McEntire her first major award, the Country Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year nod. The CMA honored her with the same award the following year, as did the Academy of Country Music and Music City News, and Rolling Stone's critics put her on their list of top five country artists. With 1985's Have I Got a Deal for You, McEntire took another giant leap in her career by becoming her own co-producer. The album also boasted the first song she wrote on her own, "Only in My Mind," which Rolling Stone deemed a "promising debut."
If there was anyone in country music who hadn't noticed McEntire by 1986, the release of Whoever's in New England got their attention. The album earned a 1987 Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, among other laurels. The album also marked the beginning of McEntire's departure from traditional country music and transition into what Country Music's Allen called "Yuppie Country." As her choice of music changed, her audience grew and broadened to include fans outside country music, though the singer did not yet move far enough to alienate traditionalists.
Dealt with Personal Turmoil in Song
1987 brought even more changes to McEntire's life and music. She and Battles divorced, and she immediately moved to Nashville, later explaining to Bob Allen of Country Music, "I had to pack everything in one day and leave. I was totally starting over." Instead of explaining her personal life to her fans, she put the emotions of the broken marriage into her next album, The Last One to Know. The result demonstrated that even in the grip of personal turmoil, McEntire could produce stunning music.
Soon McEntire began to take even more control of her career as her music continued to move away from traditional country. Some critics were less than thrilled. Nash for one, found little to praise; reviewing McEntire's 1988 album, Reba, in Stereo Review, she complained, "After years of insisting that she'd stick to hard-core country 'because I have tried the contemporary-type songs, and it's not Reba McEntire--it's just not honest,' McEntire ... has gone whole-hog pop. Okay, so maybe that's not so terrible. But her rendition of the soul classic 'Respect' is." Frustrated by the album, Nash called it a "disappointing bore, a waste of an exhilarating voice, and a somewhat disturbing harbinger of the fate of country music's traditionalist movement." Fortunately for McEntire, her rapidly growing audience did not agree.
In 1989 McEntire married her manager, Narvel Blackstock, on a boat on Lake Tahoe, and together they built a business. Dubbed Starstruck Entertainment, it brought together all aspects of McEntire's career--management, booking, publishing, promotion, publicity, accounting, ticket sales, and the administration of her fan club. Eventually, the company would grow to include a horse farm and jet charter service, as well as trucking, construction, and book publishing divisions.
Transformed Look Onstage
By 1990 McEntire had discarded her leather cowgirl skirts, her fiddles, and her steel guitar. Onstage, she donned "sequins, flowing gowns, big hair ... flashy costume changes, blue lights and synthesizers," according to Allen. Though impressed by McEntire's changes, the Country Music scribe was disappointed in her "glitzy, hip, high-tech, and flashily new age" performance. Despite such comments, McEntire had no regrets about her transformation. "I'm happier, more confident--though as you can see I still dress in jeans and denim," she told Allen. "I'm not so dead set on making everyone else happy and pleased. I don't listen to anybody's input as much as I listen to my own gut feeling."
Rumor Has It, released in 1990, gave McEntire a chance to win back some critical praise. Though Allen found the recording predictable in places, he believed she "still leaves most of the competition in the dust." The album also brought Stereo Review's Nash back into McEntire's camp; she called Rumor "glorious" and while finding little there for the traditionalist, she noted that McEntire "shines so brilliantly--regaining her good judgment and take-charge attitude, and communicating with everything she has--that she is bound to win over her recent critics. Rumor Has It is a powerhouse recording that should put McEntire back on top where she belongs." Indeed, the album went multiplatinum in 1999, selling more than three million copies.
Tragic Loss of Group Members
In 1991--at the top of her career, with a successful corporation and a new baby boy, Shelby--McEntire had the rug pulled out from under her. On March 16th, her tour manager and six members of her band were killed when their plane crashed on Otay Mountain in California. McEntire turned to music to assuage her grief, responding with For My Broken Heart, released late in the year. While it did not address the tragedy directly, it was a sorrow-filled work that "explores all measure of suffering," as Nash wrote in Entertainment Weekly. Heart sold two million copies in nine months. By then McEntire was responsible for more album sales than any performer ever signed to MCA's Nashville division. Still, success did not mitigate the tragedy. After the crash McEntire would find herself in the middle of a performance, turning to face the band and experiencing the shock all over again. "I expect other faces," she told People.
McEntire followed For My Broken Heart with It's Your Call in 1992, explaining in the album's liner notes that it was the second chapter. It's Your Call was another commercial triumph, selling over two million copies within the year. Critical reaction to the record, however, was mixed, with many reviewers comparing it unfavorably to For My Broken Heart. "The truth is, it isn't nearly as pessimistic as its predecessor--and unfortunately it isn't anywhere as involving," Nash complained in Entertainment Weekly. Country Music's Fletcher called the first three cuts--the title track, "Straight From You," and "Take It Back"--"superb," but he bemoaned the "generally weaker batch of songs and an over-reliance on similar-type ballads that don't really allow Reba the room to stretch." In Time, Christopher John Farley agreed, opining, "It's Your Call is marred by unadventurous arrangements ... she should have been willing to shear away the instrumentation, tasteful as it is, and expose her voice and all the raw hurt it bears." Nonetheless, McEntire's critics managed to find some praise. Qualifying her comments, Nash wrote, "Yet with even the most mediocre song, McEntire is a commanding performer. Singing 'straighter' these days, without so many vocal frills, she almost succeeds in turning average material into something extraordinary." Reviewing It's Your Call, Farley also observed, "On this album McEntire adds something special: a sort of time-to-put-myself-first feminism." This was actually not new, but something McEntire had developed for years. "I do think I've made a conscious effort to record more songs for women," she told Holly Gleason in Ladies' Home Journal. "It's about time someone focused on them. I think women are special, and I want to make them realize that."
Began Building Acting Career
As if McEntire didn't have enough on her plate, during the late 1980s and early 1990s she began building an acting career. Noted for her ability to convey character through her singing, she had developed this skill further in videos. According to a 1993 MCA press release, she enjoys using video to "explore the ambiguities of songs instead of as vehicles for simple retelling" and to create mini-movies. In 1992, Billboard reported that her enthusiasm did not thrill executives at Country Music Television, though, who complained to MCA that the video of "Is There Life Out There" was too long and featured too much dialogue. Still, the clip won the Academy of Country Music's video of the year award in 1992, and critics hailed McEntire's efforts. Billboard's Edward Morris reported, "Many of her music videos are so finely conceived and executed that they become works of art quite separate and distinct from the songs that inspired them."
McEntire's acting did not stop at videos. In 1989 she appeared on television, co-hosting Good Morning America. She followed this with a stab at the big screen, earning kudos for her portrayal of an arsenal-wielding survivalist in the 1990 camp horror film, Tremors. She then joined fellow country singer Kenny Rogers in television's The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw in 1991, starred with Burt Reynolds in the small screen's The Man From Left Field in 1993, and returned to theaters, filming North with director Rob Reiner. In 1994, with another feature film in the can, her albums staking their claim on various charts, and Bantam Books forking over a seven-figure advance for an autobiography, "the omnipresent McEntire," as Nash dubbed her in Entertainment Weekly, was clearly more than just a twinkle.
Still Creating Hits
In 1995, McEntire released Starting Over, a collection of the singer's favorite songs from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s that she chose to cover for the album. In 1996 she released What If It's You, featuring the single "The Fear of Being Alone." "To have 10 such powerful songs on one album makes it very special," said MCA Nashville chairman Bruce Hinton in Billboard. "There are so many writers and so many great songs in Nashville, and Reba has collected her disproportionate share.... She's country music's female artist of the 90's." McEntire released If You See Him in 1998 and The Secret of Giving: A Christmas Collection one year later, as well as So Good Together.
McEntire's album sales have continued to soar, and her career as an actress is an overwhelming success. In 2001 she took Broadway by storm when she made her debut as the star character, Annie Oakley, in a revival production of Annie Get Your Gun. People reported that New York Times chief drama critic Ben Brantley said, "Reba inhabits the part as completely as anyone I've seen in a musical in recent years." McEntire did not stop with Broadway. The star entered the Hollywood scene with her own television sitcom called Reba, which debuted in 2001 on the Warner Bros. network. Reba became the network's highest-rated show for adults ages 18-49 since 1996. McEntire released another album in May of 2001 titled I'll Be. She received her twenty-first gold certification that year, for Greatest Hits--I'm a Survivor, and achieved the distinction as the most certified female country artist in history. In recognition of her 2004 number one hit, "Somebody," she received a commemorative plaque from Billboard for maintaining longest span of number one chart hits of any female country artist (22 since 1985). She launched a tour that year, her first in three years, on March 7.
April 2005 saw McEntire return to the road on a coast-to-coast tour with Brad Paisley and Terri Clark, to benefit Habitat for Humanity. In June of that year, as she made preparations to launch a clothing line in conjunction with Dillard's, she landed another single in the top ten. "He Gets that from Me" was the fifty-fourth top ten title over 25 years of her career. Also in June 2005 she returned to the live stage, starring as Ensign Nellie Forbush opposite Brian Stokes Mitchell in a one-time only performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific at Carnegie Hall.
by Megan Rubiner Zinn
Reba McEntire's Career
Sang with siblings in small towns in Oklahoma as the Singing McEntires, 1960s; competed as rodeo barrel racer, 1960s-early 1970s; performed national anthem at National Rodeo Finals, Oklahoma City, OK, 1974; signed with Mercury Records, 1975; released debut album, Reba McEntire, 1978; signed with MCA, 1983; released My Kind of Country, 1984; became producer, 1985; formed management company Starstruck Entertainment, c. 1989; made debut as actress, appearing in film Tremors, 1990; released several albums during the 1990s, including Rumor Has It, 1990, For My Broken Heart, 1991, It's Your Call, 1992, Oklahoma Girl, 1994, Starting Over, 1995, What If It's You, 1995, If You See Him, 1998, So Good Together, 1999, and I'll Be, 2001; appeared in Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun, 2001; star of own sitcom on the Warner Bros. television network, 2001-; released Room to Breathe, 2003.
Reba McEntire's Awards
Six Country Music Association Awards, ten Academy of Country Music Awards, 14 American Music Awards, eight People's Choice Awards; six Music City News Awards; Grammy Award, Best Female Country Vocal Performance for My Kind of Country, 1987, and Best Country Vocal Collaboration for "Does He Love You" (duet with Linda Davis), 1994; British Country Music Awards, Best International Female Artist, 1999; Johnny Cash Visionary Award, Country Music Television (CMT), 2004.
- Selected discography
- Reba McEntire , Mercury, 1978.
- Out of a Dream , Mercury, 1979.
- Feel the Fire , Mercury, 1980.
- Heart to Heart , Mercury, 1981.
- Unlimited , Mercury, 1982.
- Behind the Scenes , Mercury, 1983.
- Just a Little Love , MCA, 1984.
- My Kind of Country , MCA, 1984.
- Have I Got a Deal for You , MCA, 1985.
- Whoever's in New England , MCA, 1986.
- What Am I Gonna Do About You , MCA, 1986.
- Reba McEntire's Greatest Hits , MCA, 1987.
- The Best of Reba McEntire : 1980-1983, Mercury/Polygram, 1987.
- The Last One to Know , MCA, 1987.
- Merry Christmas to You , MCA, 1987.
- Reba , MCA, 1988.
- Sweet Sixteen , MCA, 1989.
- Reba Live! , MCA, 1989.
- Rumor Has It , MCA, 1990.
- For My Broken Heart , MCA, 1991.
- It's Your Call , MCA, 1992.
- Greatest Hits Volume 2 , MCA, 1993.
- (Contributor) "Since I Fell for You," Rhythm Country & Blues , MCA, 1994.
- Read my Mind , MCA, 1994.
- Oklahoma Girl , Mercury, 1994.
- Starting Over , MCA, 1995.
- What If It's You , MCA, 1996.
- If You See Him , MCA, 1998.
- The Secret of Giving: A Christmas Collection , MCA, 1999.
- So Good Together , MCA, 1999.
- I'll Be , MCA, 2001.
- Room to Breathe , MCA, 2003.
- Bufwack, Mary A., and Robert K. Oermann, Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music, Crown, 1993.
- Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country and Western Music, St. Martin's, 1983.
- Billboard, June 10, 1989; February 1, 1992; May 8, 1993; September 4, 1993; October 19, 1996; February 21, 2004, p. 23; August 7, 2004, p. 57; August 28, 2004, p. 60; October 16, 2004, p. 6; January 29, 2005, p. 49.
- Country Music, November/December 1990; July/August 1991; January/February 1992; May/June 1992; July/August 1992; November/December 1992; January/February 1993; March/April 1993.
- Entertainment Weekly, October 11, 1991; March 20, 1992; December 18, 1992; July 30, 1993, October 8, 1993; October 29, 1993.
- High Fidelity, March 1985.
- Ladies' Home Journal, November 1988; March 1994.
- People, April 23, 1984; December 17, 1984; March 31, 1986; October 27, 1986; June 5, 1989; September 18, 1989; November 4, 1991; July 26, 1993; June 4, 2001.
- PR Newswire, December 18, 2001; April 12, 2004; February 28, 2005.
- Recording Industry Association of America News, August 3, 1993.
- Rolling Stone, August 29, 1985; December 3, 1987.
- Stereo Review, March 1984; April 1985; August 1985; July 1986; December 1986; December 1987; August 1988; January 1990; April 1993.
- Time, June 19, 1989; January 22, 1990; January 25, 1993.
- Variety, June 20, 2005, p. 36.
- Wabash Plain Dealer (IN), March 18, 1992.
- Woman's Day, November 3, 1992.
- Additional information was obtained from liner notes to It's Your Call, MCA, 1992, and an MCA press release, 1993.