Reba's throne looks beyond country music
May 25, 2005 - From the mid-1980s and well into the 1990s, Reba McEntire was the undisputed queen of country music, the first woman in the genre to consistently sell out arenas as she reeled off one platinum album after another.
She hasn't lost much, if any, of the popularity that lifted her to that standing since, although one could argue that other artists such as Martina McBride or Shania Twain now hold the preeminent place among women in country music.
But if McEntire has ceded some of her status in country music, she has more than made up by becoming a major presence in other fields.
Over the past decade and a half she has made a major impact in acting. This pursuit started in 1990 with roles in several television movies, including "The Gam-bler Returns: the Luck of the Draw" with Kenny Rogers and "Forever Love," and feature films such as "The Little Rascals," before taking McEntire to Broadway and an acclaimed six-month run in "Annie Get Your Gun." She currently stars in the WB network sitcom, "Reba," which is in its fourth season.
McEntire has little trouble explaining why acting became such a natural transition for her during a recent interview before the start of her current summer concert tour.
"Every song that I sing is like a mini-video in my mind," McEntire said. "And I'm acting out the words in my mind. I can see it. So the acting was really a natural thing."
McEntire is on break from the television series and is using her summer off to tour, heading up a bill that also features Brad Paisley and Terri Clark.
McEntire's past concerts have been known for elaborate staging, numerous costume changes and production numbers. She hinted that this summer's tour won't skimp on the visual entertainment.
"It is a lot bigger of a show than it was last year when we were touring," McEntire said. "This year we've got a lot more lights and the staging is different."
The concert dates are in support of her latest CD, "Room to Breathe," which was released in 2003, but continues to garner sales behind a new single, "My Sister." It's the 29th album of her illustrious career.
That career began in 1978 when Mc-Entire, a native of Chockie, Okla., released her self-titled debut album on Mercury Rec-ords.
But it wasn't until 1984 when McEntire moved over to MCA that she began making an impact. At MCA, she was given more freedom to choose songs she wanted to sing and record them in instrumental settings of more comfort.
Immediately McEntire's fortunes began to shift, as her 1984 debut on MCA, "My Kind of Country," became a significant hit and set the stage for bigger things to come.
Looking at how the record industry now demands quick success from artists they sign, McEntire wonders if she would have had the chance to find her sound and her niche in country music.
"I was with PolyGram/Mercury for six years before I got a No. 1 record," she recalled. "I don't know that an artist today would have that chance, at all."
Coming off "My Kind of Country," Mc-Entire won the Country Music Associa-tion Female Vocalist of the Year Award, her first of dozens of similar honors. By the late 1980s, she was in the middle of a run of 11 straight albums that sold at least 1 million copies each, a run that extended through 1999's "So Good Together," the CD that preceded "Room to Breathe."
In all, she has sold 48 million albums during her career. At that point, McEntire stepped away from the recording booth for what became an unprecedented four-year gap between studio CDs.
Returning with "Room to Breathe," she explores a rootsier side of her music.
"I'm Gonna Take That Mountain," is a frisky tune that has a distinct bluegrass edge. "He Gets That From Me" is a gentle ballad with a little extra twang." On "Love Revival," she effectively tries her hand at a buoyant country gospel sound. There are also several songs — "My Sister," "Once You've Learned to Be Lonely" and "Secret" — that fit the silky ballad style that has been a McEntire signature.
Having recently reached age 50, Mc-Entire is the rare artist who has enjoyed sustained success in a music business that usually rewards the young new star. But McEntire said she doesn't let her age affect her career.
"I try not to think about it, that's one thing, just go ahead and continue to work it," she said. "That's just wasted time in my way of thinking to worry about it. What's going to happen is going to happen. And if they discontinue playing my records, maybe I didn't put out a good enough record, I don't know. But what I try to do are projects that I absolutely love, and I'm at a point in my life where if it's not really a lot of fun to do, I just don't want to do it."
Reba McEntire plays at 7 p.m. Friday May 27, at the UMB Bank Pavilion, Interstate 70 and Earth City Expressway. Tickets range from $28 to $52.75.