It was 1974. Reba McEntire’s father encouraged her to take on the opportunity to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the National Finals Rodeo, which would take place in Oklahoma City. And so she did. Reba contacted rodeo announcer and family friend Clem McSpadden to help her get the gig. Little did she know that it would be the performance that would change her life forever.
Reba McEntire was the third of four children who was raised on her family’s 8,000-acre ranch in Chockie, Oklahoma. But they frequently traveled to watch their father, a World Champion Steer Roper, compete at rodeos. And with their mother, who was an aspiring country music singer, meant that long car trips were spent singing and harmonizing. Soon enough, they did catch the music bug. Young Reba started performing in school, and she also learned the piano and the guitar. Reba, alongside her sister Susie and brother Pake, soon became The Singing McEntires with Reba at the helm, playing the guitar and even writing songs. One of those was called “The Ballad of John McEntire,” a song that commemorated their grandfather’s achievements, which was then pressed by a local label and was released in small numbers throughout the region. The trio had their heyday before they parted ways when Pake graduated high school.
After Reba finished high school, she then enrolled at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, where she majored in elementary education with a minor in music, a nod to both her mother’s footsteps and aspirations. Upon earning her Bachelor’s degree, she continued to help out on their ranch. One thing about Reba was that she loved barrel racing as much as she did singing. And so, she would often party and watch barrel racing with her buddies at the rodeo. One time, her dad told her that if she was gonna go and watch at the rodeo then she should get a job as well. At first, she was confused at what job her dad was telling her about until he told her that she should go and sing the national anthem.
During one of her performances, Reba impressed country artist Red Steagall who was also performing at the show. When Reba, her mother, and her siblings later joined him at a hotel party, Reba performed an acapella version of Dolly Parton’s song titled “Joshua.” Steagall contacted them after he got back to Nashville, and while he couldn’t take all three siblings as per the request of Reba’s mother, Jacqueline, he said that he could take in Reba.
At first, Reba was not entirely sure about pursuing a professional music career, but one conversation with her mother struck through her. Jacqueline told Reba that if she didn’t want to go to Nashville, they didn’t have to, but she was living all of her dreams through her. It changed her mind, and she went on to record a demo and secure a Nashville contract with PolyGram/Mercury Records.
And the rest is history.