One of the greatest pieces of advice Reba McEntire has ever followed is simple: be on time and know your stuff.
It’s solid wisdom she picked up following the career of the late Hollywood legend Barbara Stanwyck, who was known for her punctuality and preparedness in any acting role she landed. Those who are new to Stanwyck’s work, her filmography spans Hollywood’s Golden Age and includes 1931’s The Miracle Woman, 1937’s Stella Dallas, 1941’s The Lady Eve and 1945’s Christmas in Connecticut.
McEntire loved watching Stanwyck play Victoria Barkley in the ‘60s western TV series The Big Valley.
“I was just a huge fan,” McEntire said. “I have her autobiography. I would read newspaper clips and articles on her. And also, when I was watching her movies on television, they would talk about Barbara and how she was the most professional person to ever work with because she was always on time, maybe a little bit early. On time for her was early.”
Following the Stanwyck code of professionalism is a small part of what makes McEntire one of the most successful recording artists in history. She has never been the kind of artist who wastes anyone’s time.
The call time for our CMT.com interview with McEntire was 3:15 p.m. and the phone rang early at 3:06 with her recognizable down-home Oklahoma accent coming through clear as a bell. Ten minutes were given to cover everything she has going on.
“Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together in Vegas” returns to The Colosseum at Caesars on Feb. 22. She makes her headlining debut at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Feb. 15. She has a country music MasterClass online and a new drama coming to ABC.
But the conversation was mostly about her first faith-based double-disc set Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope, released Friday (Feb. 3). Album one is comprised of new arrangements of 10 traditional hymns, while album two features 10 new inspirational originals, including “I Got the Lord on My Side,” which McEntire co-wrote with her mother Jacqueline McEntire. Toward the end of the chat, she mentioned she doesn’t see herself writing more original music anytime soon. She is clearly juggling several projects at the moment.
“What I write comes to me when I’m inspired,” she said. “And it could be driving down the road or out walking, and I have to repeat it until I get back to the house and write it down or sing it into my phone.”
CMT.com: What was it like writing “I Got the Lord on My Side” with your mom?
McEntire: It was wonderful. I had already written the song, and we went into the studio to record it. We went into the control room and mama was sitting there. The band went back in to get ready to perform it again and she said, “Can I make a suggestion?” I said, “Well, sure.” She said, “You’re always saying, ‘I’ve got the Lord on my side. I’m so happy.’” Why don’t your change the second verse to be, “If you’re happy, you got the Lord on your side.” I said, “Wow! That’s great. Why didn’t I think of that?” That’s how mama became co-writer on the song.
It’s really cool to get to sing with people who can sing. I’ve known Kelly since 2002 and I’ve known Trisha, gosh, maybe 26 years? Oh, Lord — maybe longer than that. When she first got started in the music business, that’s how long I’ve known her. So when you get to sing with your good girlfriends and you’ve got a long friendship, that’s what makes that so special.
What made your band leader/musical director Doug Sisemore and Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus the perfect co-producers for the collection?
They brought so much to the table because they’re great arrangers. Both of them are. We had recorded 15 songs — Jay, Doug and myself. Then we took it to the record label, and they didn’t turn any of them down. They said, “You’re going to have to record five more.” That way we would have a double album.
Jay is a great musician. He’s the greatest arranger for harmonies I’ve ever seen in my life. I love the way he did harmonies for the record. He and Doug got the Isaacs to sing harmonies on “In the Garden/Wonderful Peace.” They go out with Garth Brooks a lot, so we had to watch their schedules to see when Garth was back home so we could get them to sing harmony with us.
How has having faith made a difference in your career?
My faith has helped me tremendously throughout my whole life. I’ve depended on it. I’ve trusted it. It’s guided me, influenced me and given me advice in all ways. And of course, I’ve doubted some of the things I’ve done. But usually when I ask the Lord first what should I do in a situation, I pray that it comes through loud and clear, and it helps me. Sometimes I have to wait a long time for an answer. He’ll tell me in his own time when I need the information. But faith is so important to me. I would not want to live my life without it.
Can you tell me a story about the last time you felt the presence of God in your musical life?
Every time I listen to this album. When I talk about it, especially the song “How Great Thou Art.” I just feel the Holy Spirit wrap His arms around me and it’s such an anointed song. It’s just so powerful. It’s a love song to God. It’s praise and worship.
How has faith helped guide you in some of your toughest business decisions?
I can recall a lot of them. … On a small decision, I even say, “What do you think?” On a large business decision, I always talk to God about it: “Give me wisdom, knowledge and understanding of what you’re giving to me,” because that’s very important. You can get wisdom and knowledge and not know what to do with it. You have to tack on there understanding so you know what He’s saying to you.
Whose music has been there for you when you’ve felt spiritually lost?
Have you ever heard of the Singing Rambos? It was Reba Rambo with her mama and daddy Dottie and Buck Rambo. And [McEntire’s brother and sister] Pake, Susie and I were in high school when we listened to their albums over and over again. We would sing all their songs and absolutely love that three-part family harmony. That’s who we listened to growing up. And of course, Loretta Lynn’s gospel album Hymns. Hymns was wonderful when I was growing up. I just love it.
What do you think of the timing of this particular album in the state of our world? In times of social unrest, gospel music has been there for our culture much like how the music of the Staples Singers provided a soundtrack for the ‘60s Civil Rights movement.
I think it’s pretty good timing. Anytime a gospel album can come out is great timing because people do need that firm connection with God. And music is the best way to do it — talking to Him through praise, worship and especially through music. It’s gratefulness, thankfulness, and it’s just like a lifeline to heaven.
What continues to motivate you to keep going?
I love what I’m doing. I love the entertainment business — all facets of it — whether it’s acting or singing. I just love the entertainment business. I’m a people person. I like to be around people, and I like to travel, so I get to do a lot of traveling when am I touring. So I’ve got the best of both worlds.