Reba McEntire Attributes Her Success to Supportive Parents
Reba McEntire is one of the most successful country artists of all time -- selling more than 56 million albums and scoring a whopping 57 Top 10 singles. But, in spite of her epic three-and-a-half decade career, the 56-year-old says she owes much of her worldwide success to her parents, her three supportive siblings, and her small-town Oklahoma upbringing.
"Mom and Daddy were very influential over all four of us kids -- encouraging us, keeping us busy," she tells CMT. "That's the way we stayed out of trouble. [They] were always encouraging us to do better and to give your 100 percent of everything that you had. Try hard. And they were great role models. Daddy was world-champion steer roper three years. Grandpap was a world-champion steer roper. So we had champions in our family, and I consider my mama a champion for just putting up with all four of us kids. She had four kids in five years. Good lands, that was enough to make anybody pull their hair out. But they encouraged us to do what we can, the best we can, and to stay at it -- but try to find something you like to do to make a living. And all of us have done that."
Her father famously told his spunky daughter she should pursue singing instead of her first love, barrel-racing, because he felt she wasn't skilled enough to succeed in the rodeo. But the petite red-haired vocalist, who admits her feelings were hurt by his brutal honesty, was able to easily draw a crowd through her music from her very early years.
"When I was going to sing, everybody stopped playing dominoes or whatever and would listen," she recalls. "I thought that was quite unusual because usually when I walked in a room and I had something to say, everybody was like, 'Get out of the room. Go back in yonder and play or go outside.' 'Cause I was the third or fourth kid. I wasn't the oldest or the youngest. I wasn't the only boy, and I was usually in the way. And I was mischievous. I was always into something. So when I got good attention from the singing, I knew that was probably where I needed to land."
Reba's big break came when a record label executive heard her singing Dolly Parton's hit, 'Joshua' at a party while she was in college studying elementary education, and that helped pave the way for her to move to Nashville. A record deal on Mercury shortly followed, but it wasn't until she moved to MCA Records seven years later that her career took off.
"I changed because [producer and Mercury label head] Jerry Kennedy said, 'I think we've done everything we can do for you here. You need to make another step," she recalls. "I was unhappy with things. I wanted steel guitar. I wanted fiddle. I didn't want the orchestra coming in and playing on my songs. I wanted more country songs."
Her new label head, Jimmy Bowen, encouraged the determined singer to take more control of her own career, including visiting publishing companies to find her own songs. She scored two No. 1 hits, with 'How Blue' and 'Somebody Should Leave,' but it was her epic single, 'Whoever's in New England,' and accompanying video, that shot the then-31-year-old to superstar status.
"I was one of the very first people to ever do a video in country music. We filmed most of it in Boston," she explains. "We did this song about New England and it really did broaden the appeal, broaden my audience -- not only on stage but on television. People could watch this video. And they also saw a different side of me acting and being a different character than Reba McEntire. I think it did great things for my career."
She has a vast collection of more than four dozen awards, including two Grammys and 14 American Music Awards. But the multi-faceted entertainer has another passion that takes her onto an entirely different kind of stage. "I always wanted to be an actress. I always wanted to be a movie star," she notes.
With a leading role in a Broadway play, 'Annie Get Your Gun,' a sitcom that she starred in, appropriately titled 'Reba,' and several TV movies, the married mother of one says it's a passion she hopes to pursue more in the future.
"I totally love to act," she insists. "I don't care if it's a musical, a comedy. I just like to work and interact with other people ... I like to be with other people rather than standing out there by myself."
Reba got the chance to be with other people for much of the last 15 months, when she co-headlined a lengthy tour with George Strait, with Lee Ann Womack serving as opening act, along with her former 'Reba' co-star Melissa Peterman sharing her comedy with concert-goers. The end of the tour, which wrapped up in April, will allow the married mother of one some highly-anticipated time off for the next few months.
"I'm going to have a slow summer, and then we're going to gear up for the fall tour, which I'm really looking forward to," she tells The Boot. "I thank George Strait and all of his organization for allowing me to tour with him for the year-and-a-half, and they're great people ... to get to work with."
Reba's current single, 'When Love Gets a Hold Of You,' is steadily climbing the charts. Catch Reba's performance at the CMA Music Fest on Friday, June 10.