On her current national tour, in a show titled The Singer’s Diary, Reba McEntire explores her life history and her emergence as an entertainer.
Various scenes recall her childhood experiences singing at rodeos, her early career in Nashville, her marriages to Charlie Battles and Narvel Blackstock, the birth of her child, the tragic deaths of her band members and her climb to the stardom she enjoys today.
It’s a compelling work, a courageous undertaking given the range of speaking, dancing, singing and acting it requires. At the recent Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, McEntire adapted the presentation to chronicle her long relationship with country radio staffers. Playing in front of a typically tough crowd, she brought down the house.
In Reba’s Video Bio, which debuted Wednesday, March 22, on CMT (see additional airing times), the former Country Music Association entertainer of the year traces another kind of career history, with song videos as milestones on the journey. Perhaps more than any other artist, McEntire has used videos as a means of giving her work emotional and creative depth, of shaping her own image and of reaching her fans.
Beginning with “Whoever’s in New England,” her first video, and continuing through “I’ll Be,” her current clip, based on a song by Diane Warren, McEntire, her colleagues, her co-stars and her directors discuss the videos, how they came to be and how they reinforced the movement of McEntire’s career.
Director Jon Small, for instance, recalls that prior to shooting “Whoever’s in New England,” McEntire fought him on matters of wardrobe. She was willing to wear a large green sweater chosen for her, but she insisted on donning her own jeans for the shoot.
For “Sunday Kind of Love,” McEntire and director Jack Cole collaborated on a mini-movie, shot at Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel to create the feel of a `40s-era ballroom. “I love doing period pieces,” McEntire says.
Things were a little trying, in one sense, for “Cathy’s Clown,” McEntire recalls of the shoot where she played Miss Kitty to Bruce Boxleitner’s Marshall Dillon on a Gunsmoke-style set. “I had to wear a corset and act like I was singing,” she says. “That was pure torture.”
Before she began jetting off to exotic locations for her videos, McEntire made the most of settings around Nashville. For “You Lie,” for instance, she went to a ranch near the Cool Springs shopping area south of the city, in Williamson County. The humble dwelling used in “Fancy” was near Franklin, also south of town.
Actors including David Keith, Bruce Boxleitner, Tim Mattheson and Huey Lewis have joined McEntire in her videos. Lewis appears in “Is There Life Out There?” one of several McEntire works that went from song to video to feature-length movie.
McEntire credits “Take It Back” with inspiring her to incorporate dancers in her touring presentation. To get in synch with them, she says, she practiced her own dancing relentlessly, something she enjoys as opposed to practicing singing, which she seldom does.
The elaborate costuming and hair design for “Does He Love You” helped hide a bandage she was wearing at the time, a result of having a small skin cancer removed from her forehead, she explains.
In one of the most interesting segments of the Video Bio, McEntire says that the clip for “What If It’s You” was shot before “I’d Rather Ride Around With You.” After finishing the “What If It’s You” clip, with actor Andy Buckley, McEntire and her husband and manager, Narvel Blackstock, decided that “I’d Rather Ride Around With You,” with its breezy, carefree feel, had a better chance on the charts in the coming warm-weather months, and the switch was made. Buckley had to be re-enlisted for the prequel.
Working with other artists occasionally has presented special challenges. Video directors Robert Deaton and George Flanigen explain that the clip for “If You See Him/If You See Her” had to blend Brooks & Dunn’s Western-oriented, masculine style in with the feel of McEntire’s videos.
“Forever Love,” with Tim Mattheson, grew out of a CBS television movie in which McEntire played a woman who emerges from a 20-year coma. The song, penned by songwriters at her Starstruck music publishing company and submitted for use in the movie, proved so compelling that it became the title of the movie.
When the Dallas Cowboys invited McEntire to sing at halftime during a Thanksgiving Day game, she wanted to make the moment special. A call to pop songstress Diane Warren brought “What If,” and director John Lloyd Miller helped craft a clip that inspired social action.
More recently, “What Do You Say?” takes a look at how cancer can affect domestic hopes and dreams. “There has to be a reason, there has to be entertainment value, there has to be emotion,” says McEntire, of her motivation for making videos.
McEntire’s newest video, “I’ll Be,” ends the two-hour retrospective. Based on another song by Warren, the clip looks at the evolution of “life roles.” The story is anchored in an old house, which becomes a central part of the video, as events move from 1963 to the present day.
Directors Deaton and Flanigen clearly relish the opportunity to work with McEntire, who ranks as a video pioneer in the country music world. “She’s the ultimate,” Deaton says. “Professionaly, she’s absolutely terrific to work with.”