The Transformation Of Reba McEntire From 4th Grade To 66 Years Old

As one of the best-known country artists ever, Reba McEntire earned her nickname, "the Queen of Country." Or even easier, simply Reba. Starting in 1984, this country music singer "reached the Top 10 with every solo single she released for the next 10 years, with only two exceptions," which both were Top 15 hits, per The Boot. Proving her longevity, for four consecutive decades, Reba reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs Chart.

More than just music, Reba became a well-established figure in entertainment. She's been the host of the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Country Music Association Awards multiple times. She's an actor on the big screen and on TV. She even became the first female Colonel Sanders in a commercial for the KFC brand, Inside Edition reported.

Reba seems to never stop working, just like another country icon, Dolly Parton. "Dolly and I talked about this several years ago — about retiring — and she looked at me and said, 'I like to stay busy. I like to do things. I like to be around people.' So we totally agree in all aspects of loving our jobs," Reba told People. It was a long journey for Reba, who started her career at a young age and endured family troubles. But through it all, she continued to rule country music.

This is the transformation of Reba McEntire from fourth grade to 66 years old.

Reba McEntire's Southern upbringing

A proper country gal, Reba Nell McEntire was born on March 28, 1955, in McAlester, Oklahoma. In her autobiography, "Reba: My Story," the musician wrote that she "was very close to" her maternal grandmother, "Reba Estelle Brassfield ... I am her namesake, of course, and I truly adored her." 

Little Reba was one of four children, between her younger sister Susie and two older siblings, sister Alice and brother Pake. The whole family lived on a cattle ranch in Chockie, Oklahoma. According to Reba's Country Music Hall of Fame bio, the property was 8,000 acres. Her dad, Clark McEntire, was a champion calf roper and her mom, "Jackie, was a powerful singer and a strong influence." In addition to watching her dad perform at rodeos, Reba also helped out on the cattle ranch. She told Southern Living, "Early in the morning, before daylight, Pake and I would go get the horses out of a 40-acre pasture. And then by the time we got back, Daddy had breakfast, which was eggs and bacon, and cowboy bread and gravy."

Beyond a good work ethic with the family, Reba began to showcase her singing skills. In a Christmas play at her school, first-grade Reba made her first official singing appearance with "Away in a Manger." The star posted a photo on Facebook of her, also in first grade, singing in front of her classmates. According to the caption, this was Reba's initiation to singing using a microphone.

Reba McEntire's busy childhood

As a teenager, Reba McEntire continued to balance her singing and home life on the Oklahoma cattle ranch. In an interview for Southern Living, Reba remembered that she and her brother Pake would "be up in the hills until daylight, and about get the cattle to the pens by that time. And then Mama and all us kids would pile in the car and go to school." Reminiscing about hard work followed by swimming and homemade ice cream, Reba added, "Lots of great memories."

As a school student, Reba joined the Kiowa Cowboy High School Band. She already had experience at Kiowa High School – young Reba was asked to sing at the school's graduation when she was in third grade. At 16, to show off her voice at a bigger level, Reba and her band entered a contest hosted by a local Ford dealership. After winning, Reba won a car that she could use for six months. The singer remembered of her Ford Torino, "I put 18,000 miles on the car going to basketball camp in Lindsay, Oklahoma, Colorado for one trip, and Cheyenne, WY for the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo for another trip," she told Southern Living. Just call her Miss Atoka County Ford.

She had a lot of family fun

On drives home from watching their father perform in rodeo shows, Reba McEntire and her siblings would sing in the car. In an interview for Taste of Country, Reba explained that the family would practice harmonizing together because "Mama was the one that taught us how to sing harmony, we didn't teach ourselves." With her brother Pake and sister Susie, Reba formed a group called the Singing McEntires. 

More than just a fun side project, the McEntires would go around and sing for money. Reba posted a band picture on Instagram of her and her two musical siblings. The photo was used for a 1971 story in the local newspaper with the caption, "In growing demand as entertainers are the Singing McEntires of Limestone Gap."

In 1971, the group recorded a song called "The Ballad of John McEntire" for Boss Records, according to Reba's official website. The title referenced her grandfather, who was the World Champion Steer Roper in 1934. Reba's dad won the same prize three times. The only sibling that didn't participate in the band was Reba's older sister, Alice. Though she didn't join them to sing, Alice stayed in the rodeo family tradition. The eldest McEntire daughter once was the IFR Barrel Racing Championship runner-up. Even though she never pursued a career in music like Pake and Reba, Alice "was always a strong supporter of her family," per Reba's website.

Inside Reba McEntire's college years

Reba McEntire stayed in state to pursue higher education, thanks to encouragement from her family. "Mama knew you had to have your education to get ahead in life," Reba told the Regional University System of Oklahoma. "When I graduated from high school, I didn't know what I wanted to do next. My mama quickly replied, 'You are going to college.'" 

Reba settled on attending Southeastern Oklahoma State University with an intent to become a teacher (she majored in elementary education and minored in music). The school was only about an hour away from her family home in Chockie. As for extracurricular activities, while in college, Reba "was a member of a campus singing and dancing group called the Chorvettes." In 1976, Reba graduated with her bachelor's degree. Looking back, she explained to Regional University System of Oklahoma that her university was "an important piece of the foundation of young lives, including my own." During her studies, Reba also worked on land her family owned in Caddo, Oklahoma.

The star began performing to bigger audiences than her days in the Singing McEntires. In 1974, she sang the national anthem at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. Reba posted a photo on Twitter showing her younger self with big curly hair, singing at the event. In the caption, Reba noted that she returned several times to perform the national anthem at the event up until 2017.

How Reba McEntire landed a record deal

During her first appearance singing at the National Finals Rodeo, Reba's mother asked Red Steagall, who was also there as a performer, to help get the McEntire kids into the music business. He thought about it, since he was still trying to break into the business, but decided to start with Reba (per CMT). Steagall "invited her to Nashville to record demos for his music publishing company," per Reba's official website. With recordings made over spring break 1975, Steagall circulated Reba's tracks around Nashville. By the end of the year, Polygram Mercury Records signed a deal with Reba.

In January 1976, Reba recorded her lead single, "I Don't Want to Be a One-Night Stand." The following year, the singer released her eponymous debut album with the record label. As detailed by The Boot, Reba's success didn't start immediately with her first album. Fortunately, Polygram Mercury Records believed in the young singer and kept her as an artist. Then, with Reba's sophomore album, "Out of a Dream," she scored two big hits. The single "Sweet Dreams" reached the Top 20 and "Last Night, Ev'ry Night," landed in the Top 30. The belief in Reba paid off, as she went on to release a total of six albums for Polygram Mercury Records.

Reba met her first husband and then-manager, Charlie Battles, in 1975 on the Texas rodeo circuit. The Washington Post described Battles as "a barrel-chested former world-champion steer wrestler ... with samurai-like silence ... wordless and stoic-looking."

Reba McEntire's breakout album

Rolling into the '80s, Reba McEntire started to become more and more popular for her music. By 1983, she finally had a number one single with "Can't Even Get the Blues." Surprisingly, the catchy song almost never made it to the airwaves. Per an unconfirmed report from Classic Country Music Stories, Jerry Kennedy, Reba's Mercury Records producer, "had earmarked ['Can't Even Get the Blues'] for another artist on Mercury's roster, Jacky Ward. However, one day while talking with McEntire in his office, Kennedy played the song for her. She liked it and asked, 'Why don't you ever offer me any of those fast tunes?' Jerry replied, 'Reba, you were meant to sing ballads, that's your forte.'" Luckily, Reba knew she could bring out the best in the track, and it was the last song she recorded for her 1982 album "Unlimited."

The blockbuster album featured her first single, "I'm Not That Lonely Yet," which became a top three song. She then released back-to-back number one singles with "Can't Even Get the Blues" and "You're the First Time I've Thought About Leaving." As a result of her success, Reba earned two huge honors in 1984: female vocalist of the year at the CMA Awards and the top female vocalist ACM Award. Reba also switched record labels and signed to MCA Nashville. Her first album with the label was "Just a Little Love."

Her long history with the Opry

On the 60th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry in 1986, Reba McEntire was inducted into the famous musical venue and show. But it wasn't Reba's first time at the Nashville venue. Per the Opry website, she first came to watch performers as a 7-year-old girl "but got sick during the show, ran outside and promptly threw up on the front steps." Reba made her performing debut at the Grand Ole Opry in 1977. In the audience were Reba's parents and sister Alice, who "drove 1,400 miles round trip from their Oklahoma home" for Reba's performance. Sadly, she only performed one of her two scheduled songs "because of a surprise appearance from Dolly Parton." In her brief time on stage, Reba sang "Invitation to the Blues."

At her first performance, Reba was already married to Charlie Battles. But by the time she was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, the marriage was nearly over. The two divorced in 1987, partly because Battles was "an appropriate name," Reba told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She followed that relationship with a "a mad love affair — and eventual marriage — to former musician Narvel Blackstock." Reba and Blackstock married in 1989 in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and had one daughter together, Shelby Steven McEntire Blackstock.

An unthinkable tragedy for Reba McEntire

In 1991, Reba McEntire and her band played a private show in San Diego, California for executives of IBM. The band needed to return to Indiana, so the plan was to fly everyone out immediately following the performance. But Reba, "hindered by a bout of bronchitis, would stay overnight and join them the following day," Biography recapped. In the early hours of the morning, Reba and her husband, Narvel Blackstock, learned that many of Reba's bandmates were in a fatal plane accident. Her road manager Jim Hammon, "keyboardist and bandleader Kirk Cappello, fellow keyboardist Joey Cigainero, drummer Tony Saputo, guitarists Michael Thomas and Chris Austin, bassist Terry Jackson and backup singer Paula Kaye Evans," plus both pilots, all died.

"By far this is my darkest hour, the most awful thing that ever happened in my life," Reba told People only two days after the horrible accident. "When you have eight people that you absolutely love and their lives are just wiped out — it's devastating. All of them were special," she said. Decades later, Reba still paid tribute to her former bandmates. On the 25th anniversary of the accident, the singer posted a tribute on Instagram and explained she visited the crash site in San Diego the year before. For the 30th anniversary of the crash, Reba shared another post, captioned (in part), "No matter how much time goes by after losing people we love...the anniversaries of losing them still sting and memories come rushing in."

Reba McEntire jumped to the big screen

Already a well-established singer, Reba McEntire transitioned into acting. Her debut film, "Tremors," came out in 1990. The movie, starring Kevin Bacon, went on to become a cult classic — so much so that it inspired four sequels. In fact, the movie reached such a wide range of fans that "So many times, people wouldn't even know I sang. It's a cult film! People are into it!" Reba told Esquire. According to Reba, the film's executive producer Gale Ann Hurd saw her on an episode of the "Pat Sajak Show." The filmmakers thought the singer would be perfect for the role of Heather and reached out. After auditioning twice, Reba landed the role. Part of what made her perfect for it was that producers wanted someone who was okay with getting dirty for the part and not wearing makeup. Reba responded, "I'm an old cowgirl. It's fine."

The opportunity also came during a time when Reba's life was fully packed with performances. She recalled "Tremor's" production schedule and told Esquire, "I finished the week, got married, did two or three shows, then went back to filming."

Three years after her debut, Reba reunited with Bacon on screen in "The Man from Left Field." She also appeared in the movies "North" and "The Little Rascals." But her career in movies sort of fizzled out, and Reba settled back into making music. "Nothing came along that I really liked," Reba told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about movie opportunities.

Reba McEntire's big missed opportunity

While working as an actor and singer, Reba McEntire admitted it was difficult to juggle the two forms of entertainment. She told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about making movies, "I don't like the filming schedule, the lack of control." This came to be true in the worst possible way several years into her acting career. Director James Cameron offered Reba the part of the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown in his film "Titanic." But sadly, Reba ultimately dropped out "because they kept moving my schedule, and we had arenas booked, and then I had 75 people on payroll out there..." she told Taste of Country.

Of course, the movie became one of the biggest cinematic moments ever, with Kathy Bates portraying Brown. After all the film's success, Reba agreed with Andy Cohen's summation that "it [killed her] a little bit" to see what could have been. "But you have to take care of your people," she said on "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen," referring to her decision to continue the tour instead of leaving to film.

Reba's potential character from "Titanic" also meant more to her than just an acting role — it might have inspired song lyrics. In an interview with The Boot, Reba said that her song "Fancy" best represented her real-life personality. The singer said the lyrics are about "that idea of the Annie Oakley and the Molly Brown. It is the determination and that, that gut-wrenching [attitude of] 'My golly, I am going to do it!'"

The sharpshooting Reba McEntire

Moving into the new millennium, Reba McEntire already had experience as an actor and a musician. It seems only fitting that she then combined the two skillsets and took her talent to the stage. In 2001, she made her Broadway debut in the musician "Annie Get Your Gun" as the title character. As reported by The New York Times, Reba admitted that the year before her debut, she'd never even seen the original play. The Times' theater critic Ben Brantley noted that "in a town that eats overreaching achievers for breakfast," Reba was absolutely wonderful in her role. "Like Annie Oakley, she's a nonchalant showoff, making a highly polished performance look so easy that you wonder why we aren't all Broadway stars," Brantley said about Reba. Even more impressive, Reba had almost impossible shoes to fill. The previous actor to play the role on Broadway was the iconic Bernadette Peters, who won a Tony Award in 1999 for her performance.

Even with all the critical praise during her run on Broadway, Reba seemed to most love delighting fans on stage and off. "It's a wonderful feeling that when we walk out the stage door at night, people are waiting for us," she said (via The New York Times). "Because everybody wants to be loved and accepted. And I'm no different," Reba added.

Reba McEntire's famous friends

Parallel with the start of her time on Broadway, Reba McEntire had a hit on television. Her sitcom "Reba" debuted in 2001 on The WB network. Showing the star's appeal in all forms of entertainment, "Reba" ended after six seasons. She struck up a long-term friendship with her co-star Melissa Peterman, who played Reba's husband's second wife, Barbra Jean, on the series. With the show behind her, Reba had more time for other passion projects. For example, she created a line of clothing that was exclusive to the department store Dillard's, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Naturally, Reba also continued to show off her impressive voice at concerts. 

In 2008, she went on tour with another vocal powerhouse, Kelly Clarkson. Reportedly, Reba's company Starstruck managed the "American Idol" winner. But even with the business relation, the two remained friendly on tour. Reba admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Last night I went karaoking with Kelly Clarkson. She's half my age but we have a blast together."

Another one of Reba's famous friends around this time was former President George W. Bush. "We e-mail each other on our Treos all the time — nothing political, just passing jokes back and forth," Reba explained to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, referencing the now-outdated Palm smartphone. According to Reba, George H.W. Bush invited her and her husband "on a private cruise to the Greek islands... We became very good friends, and that's when the e-mail stuff started."

A happy and sad day for Reba McEntire

After fifty years of recording music, Reba McEntire continued to release hit songs. She followed number one single "Consider Me Gone" in 2010 with another hit, "Turn on the Radio," that also reached the spot on the country singles chart in 2011. That same year, Reba was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, achieving "the rare feat of landing a #1 hit on the country charts in the year of her induction." She was also touring in support of her album and by that time, Billboard said Reba sold "a combined total of over 9 million tickets in her career" (via her website).

Sadly, in the midst of all her success and accolades, Reba's father was dealing with health issues. In fact, she didn't attend her ceremony for the Country Music Hall of Fame induction "because her father recently suffered a stroke. But she said in a statement that she was happy to have been able to tell him about being inducted, before he slipped into a coma," Reuters reported. The singer said of the induction, "This is a wonderful honor during a very emotional time in my life." Then in 2014, Reba's dad — Clark McEntire — died. In an emotional post on Instagram, Reba said her late father had been sick for the past five years: "He had been in the nursing home for a while and we're very thankful he is not suffering anymore."

Reba McEntire talks about her love life

As she continued to cement her place as a country music icon, things became complicated for Reba McEntire, mixing her professional career and private life. On the "Apple Fitness+ Time to Walk" program, Reba talked about her divorce with Narvel Blackstock (via People). "Things started going south with my marriage," she explained. But unfortunately, around this same time, "I had my production manager who left, I had my CEO who left, my manager and husband, and my father had died." All combined into one devastating crisis, she explained that "four men who were rock and pillars of my world were gone."

After the divorce from her second husband in 2015, Reba began to date Anthony "Skeeter" Lasuzzo, a retired oil geologist, People reported. She had gone on a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with a friend. While there, she met Lasuzzo, who was a wildlife photographer when he showed her "the prime locations for animal sightings." 

Reba admitted to People that she fell in love when "I was not looking." She and Lasuzzo had dinner together and parted ways. But two months later, Reba returned to Jackson Hole and again met up with him. The romance ignited quickly, and she revealed that the two saw each other every day during her stay. Alas, the couple wasn't meant to be and called it quits after two years together. Reba told Us Weekly that they remained friends "but just decided to go our separate ways."

The star has entered the dating pool

After Reba McEntire's ex-husbands and split with Anthony Lasuzzo after a couple years of dating, she showed she wasn't finished with looking for love. As reported by Page Six, Reba showed off her boyfriend Rex Linn when the two showed up together at the 2020 Country Music Association Awards. Linn, an actor on "CSI: Miami," had previously posted a photo on Instagram being cuddly with Reba after a dinner together. For the Season 2 debut of her podcast, "Living & Learning with Reba McEntire," the host invited her boyfriend to be the special guest. Reba told People about having Linn on the podcast, "This is the first time we've had any kind of long-form public conversation, so I'm glad we could do that on this show."

More than a love connection, both Linn and Reba are connected by the same sitcom, as these real-life partners were both actors on "Young Sheldon." In 2021, Reba continued her acting career and made a cameo as Trish at the end of the comedy "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar." But her year wasn't all love and laughs, as Reba nearly missed a disaster. The singer posted on Twitter that she was touring a historical building in Atoka, Oklahoma, but during the visit, a staircase collapsed. As a result, Reba and her team had to be evacuated by the local fire and police departments. "Thankfully, no one was seriously injured," Reba explained.