31 Days of Women: Reba McEntire

Courtesy: Universal Music Group Nashville

Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.

In honor of Reba McEntire’s 66th birthday today, I look back on my last interview with the singer for Billboard in 2019. Because of her boundless creative spirit, overwhelming success and outspoken support for other women in the genre, McEntire was named the 2019 recipient of Billboard’s Trailblazer Award. Calling from her Nashville office, the superstar talked about the values that have shaped her career. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

What does being a trailblazer mean to you?

Hopefully I have done some things that have strengthened the country music business. I love country music: what it stands for, how it relates to people of every walk of life — male, female, all ages.

Earlier this year, you expressed dismay that no women were nominated for entertainer of the year at the ACM Awards. Why was it important to speak out?

Because I am a woman, I know how important it was for me to get encouragement and an occasional pat on the back and [hear], “You can do it.” That goes a long way. My mama was always saying, “Reba, you can do this.” And I said, “Oh, but it’s going to be so hard. I’m dreading this.” She said, “Reba, it’ll be over in 24 hours. You can do anything for 24 hours.” That’s a good way to look at it. So I quit worrying.

Your songs often feature powerful female characters. Was there ever a time when you passed on a song because it lacked that perspective?

Oh, lots of times. It doesn’t have to be a strong female voice necessarily, but it has to have a message. If a song has touched my heart, hopefully it’ll touch your heart when I sing it. I’m the conduit. I’m the one that delivers the message. When I go looking for songs, I ask God, “Please send me the songs that will help people, that will touch their hearts.” It might solve a problem for them, it might entertain them, it might get them away from what they’re going through. That’s my job on earth. I feel very strongly about that.

You seem to have a strong sense of what rings true for you artistically. When was the last time you made a misstep?

There was a time that I [covered Beyoncé’s] “If I Were a Boy.” We had done that for [Unplugged on CMT in 2010], and the record label really wanted me to record it and put it out as a single. I didn’t feel real good about it. It wasn’t that successful. The people in the music industry, they’re professionals, and sometimes you have to go with the team. It just didn’t work out.

What do you still hope to accomplish at this point in your career?

I love [performing], whether it’s for movies, television, concerts, recording — whatever it is. I’d love to get back into television, maybe some more movies. I love to travel, so I’m trying to check off some time to see more of this beautiful world that God has made.

For more of my feature with Reba, which appeared in the June 1, 2019 issue of the magazine, visit Billboard.

Festivals Interviews

Reba McEntire

Singer-producer-actress Reba McEntire is one of the most beloved acts in country. Her fans have been with her throughout 30+ years in the industry and continue their devotion. Whether it’s traveling hundreds of miles to witness her live or sleeping outside overnight before an autograph signing, they demonstrate their loyalty. At 2009’s CMA Music Festival press conference, McEntire explained what makes the festival so special, her admiration for Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson and her constant amazement of fans. Read below to find out more.

Your fans are very devoted. What are some of the fun things they’ve done for you over the years?
Oh my gosh, there are so many. When we were doing our backstage fan club program we would play fairs and have to empty the grandstands and then bring the fans back in. I had to hold the microphone and we would take questions. We didn’t do a meet and greet, per say as far as take pictures and sign autographs. We would just visit. That was the thing I loved most of all about the backstage program. They are very loyal, very sweet and some of them have been with me for over 30 years.

You were in the autograph booth for the first time in 13 years. How long were you autographing? What are some of your experiences, anything particularly moving?
Two hours, we went from 3-5 o’ clock. A cute little boy, his name was Riley and he was six-years-old. I got in a picture with him. I got down on my knees, and when we were saying goodbye he said, “Ms. Reba, can I come see your house?” I said yes. What else you gonna say? He was just a doll. There was one lady who told me she was reading my book, Comfort From a Country Quilt, when her mother was passing away. At the end of the book there is a title of a song and she said, “I didn’t know much about your music until this book and that was the last thing I was reading when my mom passed away. Would you sign this page?” It got us all very emotional.

A lot of those fans came down last night and slept outside to see you. What are your thoughts on their dedication?
It never ceases to amaze me, the dedication of the country music fan. They always come up with something new for me to go, “Wow. Now why would you do that?” But they were there, they’ve always been there.

Can you talk about your new album?
Sure. It’s called Keep On Loving You. It’s an eclectic group of songs. It’s got a story song in it. It has a western swing, bluegrass song, feel good time songs, sassy songs. It’s got songs for all age groups.

I read that you credited Kelly Clarkson with inspiring the new feel of the album. Can you talk about her influence on your sound?
Kelly Clarkson and I toured last year in the spring and fall and we stayed onstage the whole time together. So, she was singing harmony to my songs and I was singing backup harmony to her songs. When you’re singing to “Miss Independent” four nights a week, you’re having a big time getting that attitude going. So, when I started listening to songs, that’s what I was looking for. Attitude, sassy, women’s songs. It really made a huge difference.

Does anything make you nervous?
The thing that makes me the most nervous is a new outfit or new shoes. That’s why I’ve worn these boots since 2001. I’ve had them resoled probably 10 times. I’m getting to the point in my life where I like to be comfortable and I like security. That’s what really makes me very, very nervous. My advice to young entertainers is never wear new shoes. If you’re going to wear a pair of shoes to the awards show, wear them two weeks before. Break them in.

What makes CMA Music Festival special compared to other festivals?
Well, this festival is different because it’s for the fans. Everybody is here, but we all know it’s Fan Fair. It’s for the fans. That’s what makes it special. It’s our thank you to them.

13 years ago you probably signed autographs in Sheep Barn. Can you describe other ways that process has changed over the years?
Air conditioning is the main thing. To not sweat. They had told me that they cranked the air conditioning down, so be prepared. So I wore long sleeves and a t-shirt underneath just in case and I was just perfect. That’s the biggest difference that I can find.

Well, 13 years ago Taylor Swift was about this tall. What’s it like to be a veteran in the industry and to watch her grow as a woman and as an artist?
I’m thrilled to be in the same business as she’s in because I’ve learned from Taylor. She’s a very smart, old soul and she’s very in tune with what’s supposed to be going on. She knows how to think. She has a very great business sense so I like to eavesdrop in on what Taylor’s doing. I always learn something.

Everybody talks about you as an influence. Do you see your influence as a businesswoman in country music, or as a vocalist? Which do you see being imitated more?
I think I’ve always considered myself a stylist more than a vocalist. Businesswoman, absolutely. In the 80s I was saying to my manager and booking agents, “I want one agent to deal with my career. Not 10 different agents, we are getting all mixed signals here.” Back when I didn’t need to be playing arenas, they were booking me in arenas and it looked like sound check.  I said, “This has got to stop.” And they said, “No, well we don’t do it like that.” So after I let my manager go, divorced my husband and made my tour manager my manager, Narvel Blackstock and I started Starstruck Entertainment and we got a promoter and a booking agent that only dealt with me. That’s what I know worked real well because I wanted that personal, individual attention. I didn’t want to be divided with 15 other artists. I had to have the individual attention. Being a businesswoman is very important in this way of life. Look at Dolly Parton. I learned a lot from her. And now I’m learning from Taylor also.

Related Links:
Q&A; with Taylor Swift
CMA 2009: Six Artists to Watch
Friday Song Addiction: Country Music Edition
You Sing I Write’s Top 5 CMA Week Songs
Festivals Q&A

Poll of the Week: Which CMA 2009 Interview Do You Want to Read?

This week is country music week on You Sing I Write. I’ll be attending Lady Antebellum, Laura Bell Bundy and Taylor Swift concerts throughout the week and figured it makes perfect sense to introduce you to some up-and-coming country acts too. Stay tuned to Twitter for live reporting and recaps of each show!

As far as this week’s poll, I have some press room interviews of last year’s CMA Music Festival that I haven’t gotten up on the blog yet and I want to know which one you’re dying to read. I’ll transcribe the artist that gets the most votes for you the end of the week. (And, if you’re lucky maybe the rest next week!)

Which CMA 2009 Interview Do You Want to Read?

Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Reba McEntire
Zac Brown Band
Need You Now