Photography by JEREMY COWART
Reba McEntire is the undisputed queen of modern day country music, but you’ll never get her to admit it: in her eyes, she’s simply a “fun loving gal.”
“Deedee Wells was the queen of country music when I was growing up, and Tammy Wynette was the First Lady. To me, I’m still in the first grade,” Reba, now 60, admits. “Dolly [Parton], Loretta [Lynn] and Tammy are the ones I grew up listening to; they’re the seniors, the queens. I always pay homage to those ladies; they taught me so much, and I have just admired them forever. It feels really weird to me when people say [that I’m the queen].”
Still, facts are facts. Reba holds the record for the most top country album number ones among women—35—and is only the second artist ever to have a chart-top- ping album in each of the last four decades. She is a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee who has won everything from 15 American Music Awards to two Grammys to nine People’s Choice Awards.
She has sold over 56 million albums worldwide, including her latest release, Love Somebody. Thanks to numerous weeks atop the Billboard Top Country Albums chart,her 27th record also incidentally became her twelfth number one album. Its lead single,“Going Out Like That” a joint venture between Big Machine Label Group and Cumulus), quickly shot to number one on the iTunes Country Top Songs chart and became the biggest single sales debut of her career.
The release of Love Somebody—Reba’s first album in four years—also coincided nicely with the news that she, along with longtime friends Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn of the country outfit Brooks & Dunn—would team up for a residency in Las Vegas. The first Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together in Las Vegas at the Colosseum concerts kicked off on June 17th; due to its overwhelming popularity, a second set of shows will start in December.
The Vegas residency was fated, in Reba’s opinion. A dinnertime discussion one night in Nashville at the Kayne Prime Steakhouse with Brooks, Dunn and their spouses turned into a chat about ideal vacation spots. “We vacation together and go over to one another’s houses; we’ve been great friends for a long time,” Reba notes, adding, “Somebody said, ‘Why don’t we go someplace where you can perform and pay for the vacation?’ and somebody else said, ‘What about Vegas?’ We all kind of looked at each other.
I said, ‘Kix, would you be up for that?’ He said, ‘I would.’ I said, ‘Ronnie, would you?’ He said he would too. They hadn’t toured for five years and I hadn’t had an album out in four. It started the ball rolling in getting me back to the studio. It was a meant-to-be deal.”
As we’ve already noted, Reba is a “fun loving gal.” That said, she couldn’t be more excited to spend time letting loose in Sin City—she has, after all, been having a grand old time there for over 30 years.
“Vegas has been a really good place for me; I enjoy it. I’ve been going [there] since 1982. The first time was with the Statler Brothers. They got me out of the honky tonks and nightclubs: I was so grateful to them. I used to open for them and people like Ronnie Milsap and Roy Clarke, and then I got to headline. Back in those days we did two shows a night for seven nights. It was hard,” she recalls. “By the third night, I’d lost my voice. It’s not like that now.”
Now she gets to spend time dining at favored places like Cut and Prime Steak- house with two guys who, for all intents and purposes, are like family. They’re part of the reason she stays so grounded, especially given her Royal status. “I surround myself with people who are normal. I don’t have ‘yes people’ around me; I like to hang around with people that are smarter than me, who are fun and entertaining, like Kix and Ronnie. I love them both like they’re my brothers; we have such a great time together,” she says. “There’s never a dull moment. We’re a tight-knit group; we’re almost like a family. They don’t take any crap off of me, and I don’t take any crap off of them.”
She can say the same of close pal Blake Shelton, whose career is managed under Starstruck Entertainment, the company she formed with husband Narvel Blackstock in 1989. Together, the two are comedic gold.
“You’ve got to give it back to him,” she says fondly of Shelton. “You’ve got to get right back in his face; he loves it. What you see with Blake is what you get. He’s got that big old belly laugh. I love to make him laugh. We’ll sit around and visit, and I’ll tell him about what happened in Oklahoma [our native state], and what my momma says. My momma got baptized a couple of Sundays ago, and told him that [my mother] walked down to the preacher [to get baptized] and he said Jackie, why now?’ And she said, ‘I’m turning myself in.’ Blake roared.”
She adds, “He never says anything to anybody to be mean-spirited—he’s got the biggest heart in the world.”
The same can be said of Reba herself, who is the face of Outnumber Hunger’s 2015 campaign, a partnership between General Mills, Feeding America and the Big Machine Label Group to help secure millions of meals on behalf of local food banks.
“I had no idea that so many people in the United States were going hungry. When I was told the statistics, I thought they were staggering and then thought, ‘Why don’t more people know about this?’ It’s a really great program,” she notes.
Between her philanthropic work, promoting her new album and a Las Vegas residency, Reba doesn’t have much time to pursue her other passion: acting. In addition to her eponymous TV series—which ran for six seasons on The WB—she has 11 movie credits and a starring role in Broadway’s Annie Get Your Gun to her name.
“[Former Reba co-star] Melissa Peterman and I have been talking about doing something together in the future,” she reveals. “We’re brainstorming and trying to figure out what we want to do. Is it a variety show or another sitcom? I’d like to go back to Broadway sometime too; we’d like to do that together.”
Another potential collaborator will be none other than daughter-in-law Kelly Clarkson, who is married to stepson Brandon Blackstock. “Kelly and I want to go ahead and tour together again like we did in 2008,” she says. “I don’t know if that will ever happen, but we’ve talked about it. We’ve also talked about Trisha Yearwood, Kelly and me doing a trio album, but we’re all so dang busy.”
Other future plans include meeting up-and-coming young singers like Dustin Lynch and Maddie & Tae, and making a “good, old-fashioned John Wayne west- ern. I think I’d be the tough and sassy [character], something in between Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane. I’m not as sweet as Annie Oakley, and I’m not as rough and tough as Calamity Jane—I’m in the middle there.”
There and nowhere else—she is the Queen of Country Music, after all. Reba is a monarch to be admired: one that rules well by laughing often, loving hard and following one very important rule when it comes to her young followers: “I don’t give advice unless I’m asked,” she says. “Otherwise, they would be like, ‘Who do you think you are?’”
We know the answer:Reba McEntire is just a gal who wants to have fun.