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.