Reba McEntire: She’s Every Woman

Originally published in the Sept. 9, 2013 issue of Country Weekly magazine, featuring Reba McEntire on the cover.

Reba McEntire comes as close as anyone in entertainment to enjoying the “have it all” life that was first espoused in the 1970s. She’s, obviously, an awarded and lauded country singer who’s ruled the charts since the early 1980s and has also made successful inroads into television and movies. But always prevalent is the “wife and mother” aspect of her life. She’s been married to husband/manager Narvel Blackstock for nearly 25 years and is the proud mom to their child, son Shelby, who prefers navigating race tracks at ungodly speeds to cutting tracks in a studio.

Through it all, Reba has remained a solid role model for women, an example of someone who has managed to balance both parenthood and career demands with the ease of a gymnast. She’s enjoyed what one might term a fantasy life without being imperious about it. Reba, in truth, has never lost the common touch, a prime reason why fans both male and female continue to embrace her.

Now, fans have the chance to fully absorb Reba’s amazing life and career through a new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Reba: All the Women I Am. The exhibit, named for her 2010 album, features all things Reba, from personal items and vintage photos to numerous stage costumes, awards and video highlights. It will run through June 8, 2014, and fans can find more information through the Hall’s website, countrymusichalloffame.org

Reba graciously gave Country Weekly a personal tour of the exhibit and talked about some of her favorite and most treasured items with us. 

House Cleaning

Reba begins by explaining that these artifacts are available because of a specific trait she shares with her mother. “I’m a pack rat, and so is she,” says Reba with an easy laugh. “I saved everything. I had things in my house, the garage, the office, everywhere. Like these boots and spurs,” she says, pointing to a couple of items from her youth now encased behind glass. “I found these in the garage.” So when the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum came calling, Reba was ready and equipped to grant whatever request might come her way. “My house just breathed a big old sigh of relief when I pulled these things out,” she says, grinning. “There’s a whole lot more room. I think we were kind of busting at the seams.”  

Her “pack rat” character is easily revealed by the number of awards and photos she kept from her youth, growing up in Oklahoma. Where most folks would be hard-pressed to produce even a high school diploma, Reba had a handbill from an elementary school Christmas program, report cards and a special commendation from her high school, indicating that Reba was already quite the overachiever.

Her report card from her sophomore year at Kiowah [Okla.] High School revealed all A’s, with a circle around the ranking of “Superior.” “I found this high school salutatorian award in the garage as I was cleaning out,” Reba adds. “I did all right in school.” She humbly assesses her salutatorian honor by remarking, “We only had 18 people in our graduating class, so we didn’t have much competition. I guess that’s still pretty good, though, being in that top percent.”

Reba also hung on to photos and posters from her rodeo days of barrel racing and riding. “Here is one [photo] of me singing the national anthem at the National Finals Rodeo in 1976,” Reba points out. “That was in Oklahoma City. I’m sitting on that beautiful horse and I was just so proud.” 

That performance would prove seminal in her career. Country artist Red Steagall, who was also performing that day, was impressed with the young Reba’s voice and promised to help her seek a recording career in Nashville. Visitors to the exhibit can also catch her performance from that event on the video loop that runs continuously on the back wall.  

The Dress

Clothes, particularly stage wardrobes, play a large part in the exhibit, partly because her stage wear helped define Reba’s career. She broke ground in the live performance arena by emphasizing production values, elaborate sets and multiple costume changes, at a time when most country concerts played it close to the vest, so to speak. 

One of her favorites is a green dress that she wore at the 1984 Country Music Association Awards show. That year marked her first of four straight wins for Female Vocalist of the Year. Another is a turquoise gown that proved a hit on a couple TV shows.

“Johnny Cash gave me that dress,” Reba explains with a warm smile. “We did the TV special, Johnny Cash and the Country Girls, and he paid for all the outfits for the women. We each got to keep one dress. I wore it again on The Tonight Show in 1981 when Johnny Carson was hosting it.” Also featured are an assortment of red dresses worn by Reba through the years when she performed the story song “Fancy” in concert. “By far, that is my favorite song to sing,” Reba says with enthusiasm. “I love story-type songs and I really loved the rags-to-riches aspect of that song.” Additional outfits include the main wardrobes from her starring role in the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun along with the dress she sported in the video for her 1993 hit “Does He Love You.”

Of course, no Reba McEntire wardrobe collection would be complete without the red dress. It’s the revealing gown with sheer bodice that elicited gasps and other audible sounds when she entered the stage at the 1993 Country Music Association Awards show. “My daddy thought I had it on backwards,” Reba says, laughing. “I got more footage and press out of that than if I’d won an award that night.”  

Capturing Memories

Other items in Reba: All the Women I Am produce alternating memories, mostly warm but occasionally not so pleasant. One that catches her eye is a picture of her band members who lost their lives in a tragic plane crash in 1991. “It took a while to get over that,” she says. The photo sparks another remembrance from that time period. 

“Not many people know this,” Reba says softly, “but not long after the crash, Ken Kragen, who was Kenny Rogers’ manager, called and asked if I would be interested in doing the Gambler TV movie [The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw]. And that saved my sanity. I loved doing that and it was good for me.” 

Visitors will also get an idea of the importance of family in her life. “There’s a picture of Narvel playing the steel guitar,” she says, pointing out a vintage band photo from the 1980s. “People kind of forget that sometimes, that he was in my band for a long time. He started with me in October of 1980 and he is still with me—in other capacities, of course,” Reba adds with a smile. A family photo featuring a much younger Shelby (he’s now 23) is also prominently displayed. 

Her granddaughter, from one of Narvel’s children from a previous marriage, got a particular kick out of one colorful display—a bag of Fritos corn chips bearing Reba’s likeness. “I brought her and my grandson here to see the exhibit before it opened,” Reba recalls, “and she was most impressed with that. Out of everything there, that’s what she noticed. Isn’t that cute?” 

Reba also had a further impact on pop culture with her own lunch box and a Barbie doll, which she finds hilariously ironic. “That was a very funny thing for me to have,” she says, admiring the tiny Barbie, “because I never played with dolls at all as a kid.” 

As she surveys the exhibit, tucked into its own wing at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Reba can’t help but feel a touch of nostalgia. “I love all of this stuff,” she says as a smile creases her face. “If I didn’t, I would not have kept them all these years. It really does take me back. I wanted to be able to relive the memories and also give people an idea about my whole career, and I think we have done that. The Hall of Fame has done a wonderful job and I really appreciate them letting me do this.”

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