“There’s no pressure anymore, it’s just about having fun,” superstar Reba McEntire says about still being relevant in country music more than 3 decades after first hitting the charts. “To get to still be in the running with it, I’m just so grateful.” ‘Still in the running’ is an understatement when you consider that McEntire began and ended 2010 with no. 1 chart hits. McEntire, her sister, high school friends, label execs, peers and business partners help tell her story in Backstory: Reba McEntire, premiering Saturday, March 5, 9:00 p.m./Eastern, on Great American Country (GAC).
High school pal Sherry Fields remembers her hard working, active friend. “She was a cheerleader, awesome basketball player, member of 4-H and she would compete. She liked competition.” Following a childhood of rodeo and singing in Oklahoma, McEntire headed to Nashville and landed her first recording contract in the mid-‘70’s. At the time, female singers had little input into what songs they sang or how their records were produced. “I didn’t want to be a bitch about it,” McEntire says about speaking up and asking to record “Can’t Even Get the Blues,” her first no. 1 record and a song that was being pitched to a male artist. “I just wanted to be a little bit more gracefully forceful.”
By the end of the ‘80s, McEntire had amassed a string of no. 1 hits and music videos and had her first movie – “Tremors” – under her belt. By now she was living in Nashville, opened Starstruck and married Narvel Blackstock, who’d first joined her band in ’80. “They still make each other laugh and there’s a general respect there,” explains former McEntire TV co-star Melissa Peterman about one of country music’s most enduring unions. She also partnered with the Texoma Medical Center in Denton, TX, creating Reba’s Ranch House, a home away from home for family members of patients being treated at the hospital and eventually funded a rehabilitation center and mobile mammography unit.
Then came the larger than life headlining tour. “Ten dancers flying all around me; clothes changes, 15 a show,” McEntire remembers. “Good lord, it was just like a 3-ring circus.” From there it was on to a successful run in “Annie Get Your Gun,” on Broadway. While on Broadway she auditioned for and landed her first sitcom, “Reba,” which ran for six seasons. “The first year of the ‘Reba’ show was the hardest,’ McEntire says. “Everybody was learning, everybody was getting to know each other and I was totally ignorant to that process.”
While she had the business part of show business down, her leap to retail – specifically a clothing, bedding, luggage and home goods line – found her gaining an entirely different skill set. “We became personal designers,” she says. “We were picking out the fabric and the buttons, it’s a wonderful experience.” Leslie Matthews, brand manager for Reba adds that the star is involved in every aspect of creating the goods for her line. “She’s very involved, she sees every piece, she tries on the clothes, she gives us feedback.”
Last year McEntire released the appropriately titled LP, All the Women I Am, which contains the no. 1 hit “Turn on Your Radio.” As for the future for Reba McEntire? “She’s going to conquer the music scene in outer space because frankly, she could,” says Peterman with a laugh.
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