Reba McEntire was one of the most successful new country vocalists to emerge in the early '80s. The only problem was, she began her recording career in the mid-'70s. It may have taken her several years to reach the top of the country charts, but once she got there she stayed there -- McEntire was the single most successful female country vocalist of the '80s and '90s, scoring a consistent stream of Top Ten singles and a grand total of 18 number one singles.
McEntire is the daughter of Clark EcEntire, a professional rodeo rider. As a child, Reba was a rodeo rider, as were her sisters Alice and Susie and her brother Pake. While their father taught them how to ride, their mother, Jackie, taught them music. As young adults, the four siblings formed a vocal group that landed a local hit in 1971 with "The Ballad of John McEntire," a song dedicated to their grandfather.
The McEntire children intended to become a professional singing group, but those plans were thrown for a loop when Reba sang the national anthem at the National Rodeo Finals in Oklahoma City in 1974. Red Steagall had heard her sing the anthem and immediately suggested that she go to Nashville and record a demo. McEntire was initially hesitant to pursue a solo career, but the family eventually decided it was better for her to take the chance while it was there.
With some help from Steagall, McEntire signed with Mercury Records in 1975, releasing her first record that same year. Initially, she was a traditional hard country singer at a time when the radio wasn't receptive to that sound -- her first singles didn't come close to cracking the Top 40. Around the time of the release of her first album, she married Charlie Battles, a professional steer wrestler and bulldogger, and completed her teaching degree, in case her musical career floundered.
In 1978, McEntire began to make some headway on the charts, as the double A-sided "Three Sheets in the Wind"/"I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" reached number 20. However, she didn't have any significant hits until the summer of 1980, when "(You Lift Me) Up to Heaven" made it to number eight. By this time, she had begun to cut more ballad-oriented material and the slight shift in musical direction paid off. McEntire stayed with Mercury Records for three more years. In that time, her audience dramatically expanded -- at the end of 1982, she had her first number one single, "Can't Even Get the Blues."
McEntire switched labels in 1984, abandoning Mercury for MCA Records. At MCA, she established herself as one of the decade's most popular artists, selling over 20 million albums and winning four Female Vocalist of the Year awards from the Country Music Association. Between 1985 and 1992, she had 24 straight Top Ten hits, including 14 number one singles. McEntire began toying with rock and pop influences, both in her music and in her image.
McEntire divorced Charlie Battles in 1987. Two years after the divorce, she married Narvel Blackstock, her road manager and steel guitarist; the pair assumed complete control of all aspects of her career, from recording to merchandising and marketing. In the '90s, McEntire stayed as popular as she was in the previous decade, as both her albums and her singles consistently charted in the Top Ten, frequently at number one. McEntire also begun an acting career in the early '90s, appearing in TV movies and feature films, most notably the cult horror film Tremors. She released If You See Him in 1998, returning a year later with a second seasonal collection, The Secret of Giving, as well as So Good Together. Stephen Thomas Erlewine