Reba McEntire is one of those celebrities who is perhaps best remembered for some of her most inconsequential work. Sure, Reba was a good sitcom. But did you know she also has had a prolific career as a country musician?
It’s true, Reba McEntire, just one degree from Kevin Bacon, is more than just the face of one of the CW’s best early acquisitions. Since 1975, she’s had 40 #1 singles, with 28 albums that were certified gold or higher, making her one of the best selling artists (of any genre) in the world.
Reba McEntire’s Country Pedigree
It sometimes seems disingenuous when certain artists (looking at you, Miley Cyrus) integrate country sounds into their music. But country music wasn’t always synonymous with country pop, and McEntire’s early career proves it.
Born in 1955 in rural Oklahoma, Reba Nell McEntire, was the daughter of a three-time World Champion Steer Roper (the rodeo activity of using a horse and rope to trip and then tie-up a steer), who himself was the son of steer roper. McEntire’s mother had aspired to be a country music singer herself, but eventually decided to focus on teaching elementary school.
Reba McEntire’s mother did teach her children to sing, and eventually Reba and her siblings and mother formed the Singing McEntires, a vocal performance group where Reba played guitar. After releasing “The Ballad of John McEntire” (about her father,) McEntire was hired to perform the national anthem at the National Rodeo, in Oklahoma City.
Her performance there caught the ear of Red Steagall, who worked with her to record a demo tape which led to her signing with Mercury Records in Nashville, in 1975. Over the next two years, McEntire would record several singles, and though none were deemed bad, none were major successes.
In 1977, Mercury pressed her eponymous debut, which was a more traditional country style from her previous singles. The album, not a commercial success, did catch the attention of fellow Mercury artist Jacky Ward, who released two singles with the young McEntire. Out of a Dream, McEntire’s second album, was released through Mercury in 1979, and had her first Top 20 hit.
“Sweet Dreams,” a cover of the Patsy Cline song, reached #19 on Billboard‘s country charts, and next year she released “You Life Me Up (To Heaven),” which was her first Top 10 country song.
During the 1980s, Reba’s music dominated country charts; in 1980 alone she had two more Top 20 singles. Her fourth album, Heart to Heart was released in 1981, and hit #2 on the Billboard Top Country Albums list, her first charting album. However, critics and McEntire herself weren’t the biggest fans of the album, citing lack of creative control as the reason for the pop sensibilities which in many ways limited it.
After the release of several more albums and numerous hit singles, McEntire left Mercury Records. By that point in 1983, the label had departed almost entirely from its country ballad roots, printing far more country pop.
When she signed with MCA Nashville in 1984, McEntire had learned to assert her artistic authority, rejecting Just a Little Love‘s first producer. However, the finished album still didn’t satisfy McEntire, so she went to the president of MCA, Jimmy Bowen.
Bowen told McEntire to find country songs she would feel better represented her sound. Instead of looking through MCA’s catalog, McEntire visited her personal record collection, looking for older hits.
My Kind of Country was McEntire’s breakout album, and featured both covers of older songs and several original songs, including “How Blue” and “Somebody Should Leave,” both of which hit #1. In 1985 she released Have I Got a Deal for You, and in 1986, Country Music: The Rough Guide, which was a departure from McEntire’s recently established norm, employing more mainstream production techniques. The album became her first certified gold, and after one more album, she released her first Greatest Hits, a compilation of the tracks she’d released since joining MCA
Through the rest of the 80s, Reba McEntire would drift further and further back into the mainstream, despite a desire to remain more country-focused being what caused her to disagree with early producers and executives. Reba, released in 1988, was criticized for being straight pop, despite being marketed as country. Perhaps that’s why the album was at the top of the Top Country Albums chart for six months, and became certified platinum, even boosting sales for The Rough Guide enough for it to also receive platinum certification.
Sweet Sixteen, the then-34-year-old’s fourteenth studio album, became the first to break into the top 100 of the Billboard 200, which includes albums from all genres. A return to her more familiar neo-traditional country, the album led to four Top 10 singles, and her first live album, Reba Live, which was certified gold.
Reba McEntire in Tremors
In 1990, during one of the most successful periods of McEntire’s career, she had developed her interest in acting enough to be cast alongside Kevin Bacon in the cult horror” film Tremors. Her experiences on the set inspired her to continue acting, and through the first half of the 90s, she would star in the TV-movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, North, Is There Life Out There? (based on her own song), and Buffalo Girls, where she played Annie Oakley. A little-known fact is that during this time period, she also was cast for Titanic, eventually replaced by Kathy Bates.
Of course, acting didn’t slow down Reba McEntire’s musical career. After the majority of her band was killed in a tragic plane accident, she released For My Broken Heart. Praised by critics, the song was terrifyingly sad, and well received by listeners.
It’s Your Call, released in 1992, was her first Billboard 200 Top 10, continued the trend of presenting stories that McEntire had solidified in For My Broken Heart. The album was eventually certified double-platinum, and the next year, Reba McEntire released her Greatest Hits Volume Two.
McEntire continued to release hit albums throughout the rest of the 90s, including an album of entirely covers, Starting Over. Her nineteenth studio album release, it was certified platinum in 1997. That year, she would also tour with Brooks & Dunn, leading to the 1998 release of her If You See Him, released on the same day as Brooks & Dunn’s If You See Her.
In 2001, after releasing her third greatest hits compilation (and consequently becoming the most certified female country music artist), Reba McEntire began producing a sitcom for the WB, a now defunct network broadcast station. Reba follows McEntire’s character, Reba Hart, who encounters stereotypical sit-com difficulties after being left by her husband to raise their pregnant teen daughter.
The show was one of the WB’s highest rated shows, and ran for six seasons. After the WB restructured into the CW in 2005, the show moved timeslots and became the top-rated sitcom on the network, even surpassing the ratings of dramas like One Tree Hill and Supernatural.
Despite high ratings, the final episode aired on February 18, 2007. Fans were distraught and many hoped the series might see a spinoff on Lifetime, and even other networks felt as though the show could have been handled better.
Reba McEntire herself seemed satisfied with how things ended, happily moving back to producing music full time. (She had continued to release albums while the show aired, but with limited or no touring to support them, hits were harder to come by.) In 2008 she moved to Valory Music Group, ending a twenty-five year relationship with MCA that had earned her more than sixty million record sales and two Grammys.
What is Reba McEntire Doing Now in 2018
Keep On Loving You was released in 2009, six years after her previous studio album, and helped her break Loretta Lynn’s record for most Billboard #1 albums of any female country artist. With All the Women I Am in 2011, Reba McEntire found a spot with younger audiences, especially with her cover of Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy.”
Also in 2011, McEntire was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, by her idol Dolly Parton. She returned to television that year with Malibu Country, a sitcom that ran on ABC. The show did well, but was cancelled after 18 episodes.
Her most recent studio release was with Nash Icon Music, a new imprint from Big Machine (the label behind Valory. Love Somebody was released on April 14, 2015, debuting at #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums (her twelfth #1 album) and #3 on the Billboard 200. She spent most of 2015 touring on the album. In late 2015, she released a video for the single “Just Like Them Horses,” a tribute to her father, who passed away in 2014.
Most recently, Reba McEntire has been in the news for her upcoming guest apperance on Last Man Standing, the recent sitcom from Tim Allen. It will be her first appearance on ABC since the end of Malibu County, and will air this spring.