Since her early teens, Reba McEntire has been singing professionally alongside her siblings, but there was something special about McEntire that propelled her into the spotlight. “There’s a lot of people, a lot of girl singers, who are 10,000 times better than me,” she told The Washington Post. “They don’t have the drive. They don’t have the work ethic. They don’t have the want-to, and they don’t love it as much as I do.”
Having that unique drive meant fiery-haired McEntire would face some serious sacrifices in her life. In the public eye, she appears to have it all, and we can always count on McEntire to bring some light-hearted fun to the red carpet, but beneath that megawatt smile, this country girl has gone through it all. Here’s the tragic real-life story of Reba McEntire.
Reba McEntire had to fight for attention
Growing up in the town of Chockie, Okla., Reba McEntire was the “third of four kids.” As a middle child, McEntire told The Washington Post she constantly had to “fight for attention.” It was easy for her to get lost in the shuffle — that is, until she hit the age of 5 and realized she could sing. “Best attention I ever got,” she said.
McEntire said she and her siblings began singing just for fun, but that hobby turned serious when she became a sophomore in college. She was discovered while singing the national anthem at a rodeo competition in Oklahoma City, Okla., and eventually signed to Mercury Records. Unfortunately, an old problem began to resurface: lack of attention. According to the Post, McEntire’s music flew under the radar for years. Her first No. 1 hit, “Can’t Even Get the Blues,” was reportedly released a whopping seven years after she signed her recording contract.
Reba McEntire dealt with a ‘cruel’ father
Reba McEntire’s father, Clark McEntire, was a “three-time world champion steer roper,” according to The Washington Post. That meant he was a little rough around the edges and “never told his children he loved them,” the Post reported. But there was something about Clark — who passed away in 2014 — that left a lasting impression on his children. Reba’s sister, Alice Foran, told the newspaper that if their father had something on his mind, he would be sure to let his voice be heard. “He would tell you in a heartbeat. By our standards, they would say he was cruel,” Foran said.
One conversation between father and daughter really struck a chord with Reba. She told the Post that while growing up, she was involved in barrel racing and even played basketball. Her dad once asked her: “Reba, why do you always want to do something you’re not good at?” That was apparently his way of telling her to focus on her strong suit, which was singing, but Reba said her dad’s delivery was off. “I couldn’t imagine saying that to [my son] Shelby,” she said.
Reba McEntire’s career came first, so love had to wait
In 1975, before her career really took off, Reba McEntire met the man who would become her first husband: Charlie Battles. According to The Washington Post, he was a “former world-champion steer wrestler” who was a decade older with a wife and two kids. When Battles decided to divorce his wife, McEntire told Entertainment Weekly she was “shocked. Flabbergasted. Astonished.” McEntire married him when she was 21.
“My singing was always taken very lightly until Charlie came along,” she told the Post. He signed on as her manager, but that dynamic changed in the ’80s as McEntire’s career really began to gain traction. After winning her first Grammy award in 1986, she was ready to take the country world by storm, but her husband reportedly wanted her to take it easy. “I guess I chose my career over my marriage,” she told E! News.
This divorcee received major backlash
After being with Charlie Battles for 11 years, Reba McEntire told People magazine, “I was in and the next day I was out of love.” Kicking her husband to the curb and filing for divorce in 1987 didn’t just make McEntire a divorcée — it also meant she would be judged by the court of public opinion, and that court was not kind to her.
McEntire rebounded with Narvel Blackstock, a guitarist in her band. They tied the knot in 1988 in Lake Tahoe, Calif., but instead of receiving well wishes and a ton of support, McEntire was heavily criticized. “I have talked so much about my private life [in the past] that when I got this divorce, I got lambasted,” she told People. “My fans didn’t understand.” According to People, McEntire’s reputation was tarnished by those who “found the divorce incongruous behavior for a woman who built her career on a home-sweet-home image.”
Reba McEntire endured a tragic loss
The year was 1991, and Reba McEntire had just wrapped up a show in San Diego, Calif., performing for a group of IBM employees. The legendary singer and some members of her crew boarded a plane headed straight for Nashville. The following day, her remaining crew members chartered another flight from San Diego to Amarillo, Texas. Sadly, that plane never made it to its
According to the Associated Press, all ten people on board were killed, including seven members of McEntire’s band and her road manager, when the plane crashed “just north of the Mexican border.” The singer’s spokesperson, Jenny Bohler, issued a statement: ″Needless to say Reba is very upset. They all had been with her a long time. They were like family. She’s lost eight family members.″
Less than a month later, McEntire put on a brave face and headed back on the road to continue performing. “I can’t stop working when something like that happens. I needed it. We all needed it, to keep going, or I would have wallowed in sorrow,” she said in retrospect to The Washington Post.
Blindsided by divorce
After Reba McEntire and Narvel Blackstock got hitched in 1989, their business worlds intertwined. Blackstock began managing the country superstar through his company, Starstruck Entertainment. From the outside looking in, they were a dynamic duo and a powerful couple on all levels, but after more than 25 years of marriage, Blackstock wanted out. Perhaps no one was more surprised than McEntire when he filed for divorce. “The divorce was not my idea,” she said during an interview with CMT Radio Live (via the Daily Mail). “I didn’t want it in any shape, form or fashion. So it was really hard to make the adjustment.”
McEntire bounced back from her 2015 divorce, leaving Starstruck Entertainment and managing herself through her own company, Reba’s Business Incorporated (RBI), reported Music Row. She also found new love with wildlife photographer Anthony “Skeeter” Lasuzzo during a 2017 trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo., according to Country Living. Perhaps the country icon’s life is proof that there is “life out there” after tragedy.
A family divided
Reba McEntire and fellow musician Kelly Clarkson have shared an unbreakable bond ever since Clarkson won American Idol in 2002. Their friendship came full circle when Clarkson announced on Twitter in 2012 (via People) that she was engaged to McEntire’s stepson, Brandon Blackstock. McEntire was thrilled, but the claws came out. “I was very protective of Kelly,” the country star told Entertainment Tonight Canada. “I did not want her to get her heart broken because she wears her heart on her sleeve. … What you see is what you get with Kelly … I would have clobbered Brandon if he had hurt her in any way.”
Thankfully, no clobbering was needed. Clarkson and Blackstock tied the knot in October 2013, but the family dynamics were turned upside down when McEntire and Narvel Blackstock’s marriage ended in 2016. McEntire’s difficult divorce made her friendship with Clarkson trickier than ever, but the country superstar didn’t want Clarkson, her stepchildren, nor the son she shares with Narvel, Shelby Blackstock, to have to choose sides. “She didn’t want to tear the family apart, so she leaned on others who weren’t family,” a friend told Closer Weekly.
Even though McEntire and Clarkson are determined to not let anything “petty” destroy their bond, it breaks our hearts that McEntire had to seek comfort from others during such a devastating period of her life.