Family, Friends and Work Have Helped Reba Navigate the Pandemic

Life has come to a screeching halt for the singer, but she's making the most of her time off.

Family, Friends and Work Have Helped Reba Navigate the Pandemic
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - NOVEMBER 13: Reba McEntire attends the 53nd annual CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena on November 13, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

Though she’s hard at work these days preparing to co-host the 54th Annual CMA Awards with Darius Rucker as well as searching for songs for her upcoming album, Reba will always remember the spring of 2020 as a special time of reconnecting with her siblings in her native Oklahoma, and slowing down for the first time in many years.

The nostalgic time also had Reba reflecting on how her childhood has shaped her career. “When we were kids, when we would be released from chores on the ranch, Pake and I would run out of the house saying anything you can do I can do better,” she says of how competitive she and her brother were as children, and how that spirit has helped propel her career. “We’d throw rocks, do pushups, pullups, roping, ride, run a foot race. I’m very competitive. I’m not [gonna] cry till I go to sleep if I don’t win, but I love to win. I don’t care if it’s Rummy cards, Dominos, Backgammon. I just love to win. It’s just the fun of it.”

Whenever an artist is nominated for an award, most respond that it’s just a pleasure to be nominated. While she appreciates every nomination, Reba is always gunning for the win. “[I’m] competitive and hungry for it and that just wasn’t enough to be honest with you,” she says with a chuckle. “Everybody says, ‘I’m just proud to be nominated.’ I’d say, ‘What did they say? What?’ I love to win!’”

Reba says during the ’90s, she was particularly driven. “After every award show, if we didn’t get nominated or if we didn’t win we were dead set [asking] what did we do wrong? What do we need to do better? It makes everybody give more,” she says. “And that’s what we’re here for is to give more to our fans because they are putting up their hard-earned money and being very selective of what concerts they can go to. They can’t go to every one of them. They have to be very selective, so I want them to sit out there in that audience and when they leave that concert they go, ‘Whew! I put my money in a good place!’”

Reba was busy rehearsing for her 2020 tour when two tragedies hit—COVID-19 and the death of her mother. “We were so ready to go into full blown rehearsal. I had been in Oklahoma with mama. Mama was very sick with bladder cancer and I’d been with her. I knew it was at the end, which didn’t want to be there, so I went back here to Nashville. We were going into rehearsals and then Susie called me on the 15th and said, ‘She’s gone,’” Reba says of the call she got from her sister. “We had prayed for that because she was hurting really bad and so I went back.”

Like so many families during the pandemic, the McEntire clan wasn’t able to have a big funeral following their loved one’s passing. “We wanted the next Thursday to be the funeral and they said, ‘No, we’ve got COVID-19. You can’t have the funeral. People won’t be able to come in,’” she recalls. “So consequently I stayed in Oklahoma until the day after Mother’s Day. I wanted to stay in Oklahoma with my sisters and my brother and my family for mama on Mother’s Day. We did bury her on the 29th of March and then we cleaned out her house and everything.”

Being home with family during the early part of the pandemic, Reba says she felt somewhat sheltered from the turmoil in the world. “The pandemic didn’t hit me as hard as it did a lot of other people because mainly I was in southeast Oklahoma,” she smiles. “I was on a working cattle ranch. There was more cattle. There were more dogs than there were people at that place. Chockie, Oklahoma is little bitty and I was with family.”

Reba says she doesn’t watch news and credits that for helping her maintain a more positive attitude. “I don’t watch the news,” she says. “I watched five minutes of it last night and I got so depressed. I just don’t understand. So I choose not to watch the news.  I bet I’ve watched 15 minutes of the news since the pandemic hit.  I watched it at Susie’s house a little bit, but that was KTEM SE Oklahoma and they were giving the farm market report and things like that, which was a nice relief and talking about good news.”

Competitive brother Pake even made the local news. “The newspaper was putting Pake on the cover, him and his buddies, because they play a card game called Oh Hell! every night,” she laughs. “I think they are on their 152nd night of playing since the pandemic started.”

Like many people, Reba feels like she’s a different person than she was at the beginning of 2020. “It’s changed me,” she admits. “First of all, it slowed me down. I go 900 mph all day long. I’m exhausted when I lay down and I sleep really well, but I love life and I enjoy doing what I do, so I just re-channeled that to try to be more creative. I’ve even co-written a few songs.” 

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Breakfast with my quarantine buddies!

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She’s also enjoyed the outdoors. “I’m getting out in nature, enjoying what God has given us. I’ve got a garden. I’ve got a horse. I’ve got a little farm that I’m just enjoying so much, the peaceful slow down,” she says. “I haven’t had this much time off since I was in high school, so it’s been a reward and a joy to me. My heart goes out to all the folks who have been sick and who have lost loved ones. My heart goes out to them and to anybody who is suffering and hurting with this illness. It’s not a nice illness at all. It’s hateful, but I do need to say honestly, I have enjoyed the rest. I’ve enjoyed the time off to be creative, but mainly to be still, just to be still. I’ve loved that tremendously.”

Though she’s spent a great deal of time at home, Reba has been getting out and being careful to observe social distancing and COVID-19 rules. “I have not secluded myself. I’m way too much of a people person,” she smiles. “The thing that is the hardest is I can’t hug anymore. That hurts worse than anything. I can’t shake hands. Daddy always told us, ‘You look them in the eye and you shake their hands,’ so that’s two things that’s very foreign to me, but it’s for their safety as much as it is for mine. That’s why I wear a mask no matter where I go. If I do go out, I wear a mask. I stay away from people as much as I can. It’s funny. They still want pictures and they want to hug. I just have to say, ‘Guys, we just got to keep our distance,’ but it’s for their good. I’m not surely a snob about it at all, and I never want to hurt anybody’s feelings.”

Reba is hoping on the other side of the pandemic the world will have changed for the better. “I hope our new normal is a better new normal,” she sighs. “I hope we’re nicer. I hope we’re kinder.  I wish all this hate and anxiety would go away.  I don’t know if everybody is penned up and just needing the release, but I wish that would definitely go away.  I want a better new normal.”