At the 51st Annual CMA Awards on Nov. 8, Garth Brooks accepted his Entertainer of the Year trophy from Reba McEntire, who he called “the entertainer of a lifetime.” An accurate description, Reba has proven herself a mainstay in the country genre throughout the past four decades having released over 30 albums, 27 of which received more than 40 million in certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). An impressive feat, she is second only to Barbra Streisand for female recording artists with the most Gold albums.
Her global success exceeds music, though. Reba has starred in countless television shows, films and Broadway productions, as well as launched her own boots collection and home goods line. Currently, she’s also part of the longest-running country show in Las Vegas history with the Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together In Vegas residency, which recently announced its fourth year at Caesars.
In October, the fiery redhead re-released her third Christmas compilation, My Kind of Christmas, and on Nov. 27 she’ll be hosting CMA Country Christmas for the first time. During a chat the day after the CMA Awards, Reba spoke with Sounds Like Nashville over the phone to discuss her many upcoming projects, her secret to longevity and the importance of making friends in the music industry.
On the heels of an awards show appearance, rehearsals for CMA Country Christmas and looking for new film and television projects, the country legend shows no signs of slowing down and when asked if she ever sleeps, she laughs, assuring us that she does.
“I skipped all the parties last night to go home and go to bed,” she admits. “It was a long day and I just needed to go home and take care of myself.”
That long day included two performances during the awards show that evening — one as part of the opening number where she sang Hootie & the Blowfish’s “Hold My Hand” alongside many of her colleagues including Brooks & Dunn, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, and Garth Brooks, among others, and a second collaboration with Kelsea Ballerini on the young singer’s new single, “Legends.” Reba says it was an emotional night for her with the countless tributes to lives lost in 2017.
“It was just so moving. I absolutely loved it. I got very emotional,” she confesses. “I was worn out by the time the show was over. It was of reverence, of respect and realizing that, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together.'”
It’s a great time in my life. I am totally enjoying it.
The night was one of unity and togetherness and several CMA winners took the podium to accept their award while discussing how the country community is a family. Reba shares the same sentiment, explaining how at rehearsal for the opening number, the artists took time to visit with each other during their down time.
“Nobody had their tour managers or their managers or any handlers around,” she recalls of the rehearsal. “We just sat there and visited like friends. So we do get along. We do like each other. Some we like more than the others, but, you know, we’ve got our favorites. It’s a community. We got there in different ways but we’re all very thankful that we’re a unit that gets to sing country music.”
Reba describes the friendships she has formed over the years with her fellow country music singers as “priceless,” sharing that she learns from everyone she meets, whether it be a newcomer or a seasoned performer.
“Kelsea is a wonderful, very talented, good person but she also has this gift of entertaining and writing songs and singing that is different than the way I grew up, the way I handle things. I learn from her, she learns from me,” Reba explains. “I really want our relationship and our friendship to continue as Trisha Yearwood’s and mine has developed over the years, mine and Faith’s [Hill]. It’s very special. Vince Gill and I are best friends. I mean, we could pick up the phone and it’s like we talked yesterday. Ronnie [Dunn], Kix [Brooks] and I, we’re tight, I mean, it’s just those friendships. I’ll put it this way, winning an award is sweet but having a friend in the music business that you get to share good times, bad times, experiences with, the stage with — that’s priceless. That’s the gift from God.”
Reba credits her long-term success to finding the right songs. It’s advice that she received years ago from Conway Twitty: “Keep looking, don’t be satisfied with just a mediocre song, keep digging and find those great songs.”
“I think it’s very important, number one, to have great music,” she stresses. “You can’t be in the business this long with mediocre songs, and thanks to the songwriters for all those songs that they let me record of theirs. Hard work, a great team of people around you. You can’t do it by yourself. I don’t know why anybody would want to. So, you’ve really got to hang in there, find great people who love this business as much as you do, who are creative, who have great ideas and, that way, you can get out there and execute them. That’s really important. You’ve got to reinvent yourself, try new things, but, also, do things that make you happy. Fun things. If you do the same thing over and over, you’re gonna get bored and then you’re gonna get miserable and it’s not fun anymore. So I only do things that are fun.”
Embracing the fun that goes into recording an album, Reba decided to enlist the help of several friends when her record label suggested re-releasing the Christmas album she recorded last year. She added four songs to 2016’s My Kind of Christmas, which includes collaborations with longtime pals Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Trisha Yearwood, Kelly Clarkson and Darius Rucker, as well as her single “Back to God” with Lauren Daigle. Reba is well aware that “Back to God” isn’t necessarily a Christmas song, but she says it’s a timeless message that needs to be heard.
“Because of what we’ve been going through this year with the floods, the fires, the shootings, the senseless tragedies that have occurred, it just aggravates me, it hurts my heart,” she says softly. “I know God’s crying. I think we need to give this world back to God. I think we need more prayer, praying for peace. It’s very important to me that we need help and I think it’s time for all of us to realize it — we need help.”
Another highlight on the album is “Mary, Did You Know?” which features a spoken passage from Grant. Reba says the idea came from Gill, as well as the decision to add guitar to the song.
“Vince said, ‘Hey, Reba I can play this part here on my guitar,’ and I said, ‘Vince it’s a piano album, you’re not supposed to play anything else.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but I could play this right here,’ and I said, ‘Okay, Vince. You can do it.’ I can’t say no to Vince!” she says with a laugh. “We were all sitting around talking, and Vince said, ‘Amy’s got a real good speaking voice. Why don’t you let her do her part on that second verse?’ Vince was right. We took her speaking voice, it was just so different and it really hit my heart. I loved it.”
Reba also took part in arranging some of the holiday classics on the album, including “O Holy Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Jingle Bells.” As she explains, it was important to make each song her own because the holiday standards have been recorded many times by numerous artists over the years.
Fans will get to witness this originality on Nov. 27 when Reba hosts and performs during the eighth annual CMA Country Christmas television special on ABC. She’ll be singing “Mary, Did You Know?” with Little Big Town and promises that their performance will be “killer.” Reba’s already been rehearsing and says preparations for the show are “going splendidly well.”
You’ve got to reinvent yourself, try new things, but, also, do things that make you happy.
“I’m so excited to get to shoot that. I’ve watched Jennifer Nettles do it and she did such a great job so I’m filling big shoes there. I hope I don’t embarrass her,” she says. “We’ve got wonderful guests. I’m really thrilled to be a part of it, to get to sing and listen to other folks sing.”
While Reba has hosted countless awards shows and television specials over the years, she admits that she still gets some jitters before taking the stage.
“Kelsea asked me last night before we went on the stage, ‘Do you still get nervous?’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah!’ She said, ‘Well, what do you do to get over the nervousness?’ I said, ‘You get out on stage. You just go do it! That don’t go away. And if it does, that’s sad, because that’s the adrenaline.’ I don’t know if it’s nervous or just anxious to get out there. When I did ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, I was so anxious to get out there and get on that stage and entertain folks. I was maybe nervous, but I was ready. It’s not a dread, it’s a nervous excitement.”
Regardless of nerves, Reba promises a fun night of holiday music for the whole family. Since the program airs shortly after Thanksgiving, she says it’s a show viewers can sit down and watch with their entire family and get into the Christmas spirit.
So how exactly does the entertainer of a lifetime celebrate the holidays? Reba says her family maintains some traditions she had as a child, like opening presents on Christmas morning, but they’ve also added new traditions as well.
“Christmas Eve, we started a tradition a few years ago that all the kids get to open one gift. I’ve been divorced, this will be my third Christmas divorced, and so I’m sure there’s a lot of people who can relate to this. When you get divorced and you have children, traditions change, because you’ve got to see the good in all things and so to take a fresher viewpoint is usually the best way to do it,” Reba, who divorced her husband and former manager Narvel Blackstock in 2015, explains. “[My son] Shelby really helped me out a lot with that. It was our tradition earlier on, ever since he was a little kid, to watch ‘Christmas Vacation’ on Christmas Eve. So, Shelby, last year, said, ‘Mom, we’re gonna change things up. We’re gonna watch ‘Grinch’, or ‘Elf’, or something different.’ And I just loved him even more for thinking of me and knowing it was gonna be a little rough. You have to go on but you have to find new ways of going on and that’s one way that we did it.”
The holiday season has Reba’s calendar stacking up even more with additional concert dates. Following CMA Country Christmas, she’ll return to Las Vegas for her residency with Brooks & Dunn in December. The three friends recently announced that they’ll be returning to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas again in 2018 for an extension of their four-year run in March and August and Reba couldn’t be more excited about it.
“We’re the longest country residency,” Reba marvels. “Our combination of Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire, you can only see that in Las Vegas. For us to be able to do a show that’s exclusive there, is really exciting for other people. Then they want to come to Vegas, see other shows, come to see our show. And it’s a fun show. We’re on the stage together, I’d say, 75-percent of the time and that chemistry, it just works. It clicks. We did four tours together and here we are doing Vegas.”
As the year winds down, Reba is already looking ahead. She has partnered with Justin Boots for an exclusive boots line in stores just in time for the holidays and on Nov. 21, Reba and her mother will be inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s also starting to look for new music with hopes to release another album next year. Things really couldn’t get any better for Reba.
“I’m open to just about anything. It’s a great time in my life. I am totally enjoying it. My health is great, I’m absolutely loving life,” she concedes.
Tune into ABC on Nov. 27 at 8/7c to see Reba host the eighth annual CMA Country Christmas.