Reba McEntire is a rodeo girl, there’s no doubt about it. For 10 years, from the time she was 11 until she was 21, she competed in barrel racing events. But as comfortable as the beautiful Okie was on horseback, she was even more comfortable behind the microphone, even at the rodeo. Discovered by Red Steagall while performing the national anthem at the 1974 National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, Reba recently recreated that moment during Round 8 of of what’s now known as the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR).
Things have changed a bit, though. WNFR is now held at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Winners’ checks are big. Real big. And so is the crowd. Overall attendance numbers are nearing 200,000, and the event annual sells out.
Country artists like Mark Wills and Daryle Singletary stepped up to perform their own versions of the national anthem during prior rounds of the rodeo, but on this night, Dec. 14, it was Reba’s return to the spotlight.
And, as you would expect, it was incredible.
Dressed in jeans and boots, with a touch of fringe and a flash of rhinestones, Reba’s vocal performances out-sparkled her attire. Her voice virtually rippling through her signature vowel bending and beautifully tender twang, the legendary star turned several times throughout the performance to face different sections of the arena, connecting with the entire audience.
This wasn’t Reba’s first time to return to the rodeo since that very important performance in 1974. She also sang the anthem in 2010 and 1976. And although her voice is richer and her performance is much more confident, the changes in her voice are subtle and tell us that Reba has always been a star.
In a behind-the-scenes video, Reba tells the story of how that first performance at National Finals Rodeo ultimately led to her storied career in Nashville’s music business. She recalls, “After the rodeo, we all went up to the Justin [boots] suite at the Hilton and we were all in this big suite and the guys were passing the guitar around, and somebody asked me to sing ‘Jolene,’ no ‘Joshua.’ It was a Dolly Parton song. And so I did, and Mama got Red [Steagall] over to the side and said, ‘Is there any ways you can get my three kids into the music business’ and he said, ‘Oh Jackie, I’m just fighting for myself right now.’ But in January of ’75, Red did call Mama back and said, ‘Why don’t we try Reba. Get her foot in the door and maybe we can bring Pake and Susie in later.’ So, that’s what happened, and 11 months later, I had a Polygram/Mercury Records contract.”
So, aspiring country stars, know your national anthem!