Now 61, the music, film, television, and stage star is still an Oklahoma girl at heart.
“I said, ‘Levi’s,’ ” McEntire says, laughing at the memory. “I didn’t have a clue what else to say.”
It was a witty reply, and it was the truth. The Oklahoma-born-and-raised singer, actress, and author grew up in the world of rodeo, performing with her siblings as the Singing McEntires at the venues where her father, Clark Vincent McEntire, competed professionally. Reba also tried her hand at barrel racing, following the family rodeo tradition, and she relishes her memories of growing up in Oklahoma, saying she “wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
“I’m a person that grew up loving country music,” she says. “Mama and Daddy would take us to the picture show on Friday night, and they’d go visit with their friends and then come back and wait for us to get out of the picture show. They would listen to the Grand Ole Opry settin’ in the car, and Mama would read a book by the light of the dome light while Daddy took a nap in the backseat. Just country stuff like that, that’s my memories of Oklahoma, and the rodeos and the trail rides we went on when we were kids.”
Fifteen years after that funny fashion show exchange, McEntire has a fashion line of her own, with beauty products and luggage to boot. That’s not to say McEntire put down the microphone and guitar to pick up a needle and thread. Last year saw the release of Love Somebody, her 27th studio album, and earlier this year she released a striking and intimate black-and-white music video for “Just Like Them Horses,” a tribute to her father, who died in 2014. The video stars her mother, Jacqueline McEntire, whom Reba calls “the rock, the glue of the family,” and was shot at the family ranch in Chockie, Oklahoma.
The singer has also somehow found the time to share a hit Las Vegas residency, Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together in Vegas at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, for most of the summer with longtime friends and collaborators Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn.
We caught up with the Renaissance woman shortly after the release of the haunting “Just Like Them Horses” video and a few weeks before the start of this year’s Las Vegas stand to talk about fashion, music, videos, family, and her home state.
Cowboys & Indians: What made you want to branch out into apparel and beauty supplies when you’ve been so successful in music, film, theater, and television?
Reba McEntire: Well, I didn’t. I really didn’t. They came to me. Josephine DiMarco at Soulstar [Creations, an apparel design company] in New York City got ahold of the folks at Dillard’s — Drew Dillard, as a matter of fact — and said, “We would like to do a clothing line with Reba McEntire, would you be interested in having it at Dillard’s?” And Drew Dillard said, “Yes, absolutely.” So they contacted me, and I said, “I know absolutely nothing about clothes or fashion.” I have stylists to clothe me, and I was a child that grew up in southeastern Oklahoma wearing hand-me-downs. So I didn’t know anything about fashion. ... I took a two-hour meeting in Los Angeles, and at the end I said, “I wouldn’t wear anything you showed me.” And they said, “OK, let’s not give up yet. Why don’t you get into magazines and catalogs, and just do a tear-sheet pile for us, and show us what you would wear?” I sent them a huge pile of tear-outs, and they came back in two or three months, and everything they presented to me, I loved. So I said, “OK, I’ll do it.” And that was 11 years ago. ... It’s been a fun learning process. ... While we are doing the residency — Brooks & Dunn and myself — in Vegas with Caesars Palace, in the gift shop they sell those things. And they sell out so quick.
C&I: You had the same residency with Brooks & Dunn last year and have toured and collaborated with them quite a bit over the years. What is it about working with those two that draws the three of you together time and again?
McEntire: We have fun together. We love to sing together, we love to perform together, and we also love to go out to dinner. I was with them last night for my birthday party. We go on vacations together. They’re witty, they’re funny, they’re so smart. I learn from them. I like to hang out with people who are smarter than me, and they are definitely smarter than me. ... If you can perform together but you don’t click personality-wise and you don’t like to hang out with them, that’s not fun. I’m 61 years old. I want to do things that are fun, exciting, that I look forward to instead of dreading.
C&I: “Just Like Them Horses” is such an emotionally raw song, and the video is very intimate-feeling. How comfortable were you putting yourself and your family and emotions out there like that?
McEntire: I was very comfortable with it. Absolutely loved it. I think it’s one of my all-time favorite songs to sing. And the video. I was just going to do the song, I was going to record it and have it played at Daddy’s funeral, because Daddy’d been sick a long time, and we knew it was inevitable. We had planned the funeral about four times, got all the music ready, and he’d bounce back. But I knew while I was in the studio, I wanted to do a song especially for him. And “Just Like Them Horses,” you say “Daddy,” you see a horse when you’re thinking about him. He was always on a horse, rodeoing. He was a world-champion steer roper three times: ’57, ’58, and ’61. So I wanted to record it for the funeral. Then when I got in the studio, Tony Brown, my producer, said, “Oh no, this has got to go on the album.” So it made both, the funeral and the album.
I had a vision for this video. And I’ve never been the director or concept creator for a video in my 40-year career. This came to me, and it felt so strong to me that I knew I had to do it.
C&I: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Oklahoma?
McEntire: The first thing I think of is family. All of my family are still in Oklahoma. ... I think about the good people that are there. It’s a great place to raise kids. My nieces and nephews, all their kids are in FFA and rodeoing. I remember a rodeo announcer in Claremore, Oklahoma, when we were there for the rodeo, and I remember him saying, “You give a kid a horse, and you’ve got a kid that will never get in trouble.” Because they’ve got someone else to take care of, be responsible for. And that’s what we were taught when we were growing up in Oklahoma. We had horses and dogs, and we took care of the cattle. It was a huge responsibility growing up, but it taught work ethic and responsibility at an early age, and I think that’s what’s made me what I am and who I am today.
C&I: What are some of your favorite places or things about the state?
McEntire: I do love the eastern part of Oklahoma because of the beautiful scenery and the hills, the Talimena [Scenic] Drive, and the folks there. ... I love to go up to Krebs, Oklahoma, and eat at Pete’s [Place]. That’s an Italian village, where everybody settled long ago, and they’ve got great Italian food. ... It’s the state of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” so thank God they’ve got the casinos there. They put on wonderful entertainment, and I’ve gotten to work a lot of casinos in my career and places that provide entertainment to the people in Oklahoma. But I’ve got to come back and say it’s the people that make Oklahoma so special. They’re all so warm and friendly and inviting. They’re hardworking people.
From the July 2016 issue.