She’s the biggest little lady in country music, and made it to the top the old-fashioned way–with natural talent, a little luck, and lots of hard work.

By Randy Witte, November 1991
Photographs by Jim McGuire

Reba feature

There’s a ranch in southeastern Oklahoma with a driveway that leads to a highway that took Reba McEntire all the way to Nashville, Tennessee. She grew up ranching, rodeoing, and singing, and while the latter made her famous, it didn’t change her. She knows what makes life worth living, and her priorities are straight.

Her daddy, Clark McEntire, is a three-time world champion steer roper (1957, ’58, and ’61). His late father won the same title back in 1934. Rodeo has been important to the McEntires, and the whole family-Reba’s sisters Alice and Susie, brother Pake, and mom Jacqueline- used to travel with Clark to the summer rodeos he entered. To pass the time, while riding in the car, Mom taught the kids to sing and harmonize.

Reba still stays in close touch with her parents and siblings, and she and her husband, Narvel Blackstock, and their children often visit the Oklahoma ranch on holidays. Looking back on her childhood, Reba’s progression to the top as a singer and entertainer seems like it must have been almost predictable.

She loved to sing, and was in every school musical production that came along, from first grade on up. She followed the careers of all the Nashville stars, and could imitate their styles when she sang their songs. Then Reba developed her own style of singing, and it is that style that has brought her fame and fortune. She has legions of fans, hit albums and videos, and tours that generate rave reviews. Music critics say she sings with heart and soul, and strikes a chord in men and women, young and old.

Reba was a sophomore at Southeastern State University at Durant, Okla., the year she first sang to a really large crowd. The event was the 1974 National Finals Rodeo, in Oklahoma City, and her dad had made arrangements with Clem McSpadden, general manager of the NFR, for Reba to open the performances by singing the national anthem.

The rodeo crowd loved her. She was one of their own, for sure. But it was her strong, clear singing voice, the way she handled the difficult highs and lows in “The Star Spangled Banner,” that brought waves of applause and cheers, night after night at the rodeo. It was also the first time that the traditional singing of the national anthem received news coverage as an important part of the rodeo.

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