Reba McEntire fans are like her worldwide family, and they share her pride when she garners another accolade. The latest is the inaugural Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Career Maker Award, and no one but Reba seems surprised that she’s about to be handed a Kennedy Center Honor. “I was flabbergasted,” she declares. “I was just so thrilled. It is beyond entertainment. It’s kind of like you’re the all-around cowboy if you’re in the rodeo. It’s more than just being able to sing.” But it’s the songs from the Queen of Country that have defined her career, selling over 56 million copies and making her one of the best-selling artists of all time.
When she isn’t singing, Reba might be acting, which propelled her TV sitcom Reba to success for six seasons. Its cancellation was a big disappointment, but there is hope that the series might return.
“We’ve kept working on it,” she says, “and right now, the reruns make it the most popular syndicated show next to M*A*S*H.”
When Reba entertains at one of her favorite venues — The Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas — with Brooks and Dunn, she not only stops every show, she has to sing a little louder to be heard because those fans are singing right along with her. Always grateful, she insists, “I give the songwriters and the writers of the TV show the credit on all of this, because without the words for me to sing or to talk, I wouldn’t have that gift. It’s a total gift from God. I always say, ‘Let me be the conduit. Let me help in any way I can.’”
In addition to her appearance at the Kennedy Center Honors (airing December 26), she’s also making a return performance as host of the CMA Country Christmas on ABC.
Jeanne Wolf: On your latest album, Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope, you sing about your belief in a higher power. Ever worry that being so open about your faith might seem like you’re preaching?
Reba McEntire: I know what you mean, but my grandma always taught by example. I’m not out to teach or preach; I’m just showing everybody that I’m happy the way I am because of my faith. It’s a relief to me that God is always taking care of me, always helped me through the hard times, and is always there with me in the great times. Music and entertainment seem to be a way to deliver a little message to folks without beating them over the head and preaching to them. It’s very subtle, but it hits the heart. I’m looking in people’s faces when I’m performing, and I know when a song is really touching their hearts. Hopefully, they feel like I am singing it to them. It makes me feel real good that they felt that they got that connection.
Music has helped me in so many different ways. After I lost seven of my band members and my tour manager in a plane crash in ’91, we went to the studio and started recording songs. Leland Sklar, the bass player, said, “Reba, are we going to record any happy songs on this album?” I replied, “Not on this one,” because it was helping me heal my heart. It’s true about my divorce, too. The world doesn’t stop for a broken heart, and that’s the truth. You’ve got to go on, but you’ve got to express your pain, and the way I did it was through my music. The songs I choose, 99 percent of them, are about heartache, and that’s what makes country music so popular. It’s relatable. When a person is sad, they don’t listen to happy songs. I guess misery loves company.
JW: When you and your husband and manager of 26 years, Narvel Blackstock, broke up, you shared your stress and disappointment. Now you’ve introduced your new beau, Anthony “Skeeter” Lasuzzo, at last year’s Grammy Awards.
RM: I think that kind of split is hard on anybody. I’m no different than anyone who’s ever gone through a divorce or a death. Even if you’re in the public eye, the hurt’s the same. I don’t have any secrets, because people pretty much know everything. Time has passed and I’m a happy camper. I have a new love in my life, and I have done things that I couldn’t have gotten to do before, so I’m always a firm believer that timing is everything and everything happens for a reason.
There’s a lot of things I miss. I worry for my family, because a divorce hurts more than just the two people who get divorced. It’s a ripple effect. It’s everybody that is involved. It changes everybody’s lives.
My boyfriend, Skeeter, is a great guy, very open, and we’re having fun together. We’ve been to Africa, Iceland, and Italy this year. I think being very secure in his own skin makes it a lot easier to deal with the things he has to deal with for me. He’s a very confident, secure man, and so he doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody, and we have a wonderful time with all the stuff that we’re getting to do.
JW: What has helped you make it to the top and set such high standards for yourself without letting your fame and success change you?
RM: First of all, my parents. My mama’s a little spitfire. There are about 50 things that I can hear her saying in my mind, but the number one thing is, “I love you gobs and gobs.” Daddy was the strict disciplinarian, a hard-working man with little patience. One of the sweetest things he ever said about me was, “Reba, when I hear people talking about you or when I hear your voice on the radio, my stomach just goes to pumpkin.” And the other was, “Reba, you sure do work hard.” From Daddy, that was a huge compliment.
I’m the first to admit, I’m very competitive. I love to play games, and I love to win, but when I lose, I’m the first one to start clapping and say, “Congratulations, now let’s do it again, because I’m going to whip your butt.” I grew up on a working cattle ranch. My daddy and my grandpap were world champion cowboys. My brother and I were always competing, saying, “Anything you can do I can do better.” You wanted to win, but it was also a game.
People say, “How do you stay so grounded?” I say, “Well, my sister calls me a twinkle, not a star.” I don’t have yes-people around me. I love teamwork. I don’t think anybody is supposed to do everything by themselves. It’s lonely, doing it by yourself, even if you can. But I can be a diva, a big-time diva. My co-star on my TV show Reba, Melissa Peterman, was saying the other day, “I love to see Reba when she puts on that red dress and walks out on stage and becomes fancy. She’s just got a strut to her.”
This article appears in the November/December 2018 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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