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2018 Horatio Alger Award Recipient

Reba McEntire

Multi-media Entertainer and Entrepreneur

“Listen to your parents, listen to your teachers, but most of all listen to God.”

Reba McEntire, the third in a family of four children, was born in 1955 in McAlester, Oklahoma.Her father, Clark McEntire, was a three-time world champion steer roper and hermother, Jacqueline McEntire, a former teacher and Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee. Reba McEntire was raised on a 40-acre ranch, which her father steadily increased over the years with his rodeo winnings. "In 1947, my father was the fifth-highest-paid steer roper in the Rodeo Cowboy Association," says McEntire. "That year, he won $1,222. In 1957, the biggest year he ever had, he earned $5,184."

McEntire's father expected all the children to work on the ranch. She began riding horses at the age of three; and by the time she was seven, she was gathering cattle from before daylight until after dark. "I loved growing up in Oklahoma," she says. "We worked hard and we played hard. There was always a sense of unity with all of us working together."

McEntire's mother was a teacher until her first child, Alice, was born. Within six years, she had four children - Alice, Pake, Reba, and Susie. When Alice was old enough to watch her younger siblings, Jacqueline McEntire went to work as a bookkeeper for the local school and also sold fish bait at the nearby lake. "Mama drove an old pick-up truck that had no brakes or starter," says McEntire. "We kids would push the truck until Mama could pop the clutch and force the engine. At night, Mama would park the truck on a hill and put a rock behind the tire to hold it."

McEntire remembers one year when her mother decided to have a new living room built onto the house. She was able to do this using her own savings, but she also received help from her children, who donated the money they earned from raising heifers and selling the calves through their 4-H program. "For the next several New Year's Eves," McEntire recalls, "we had family and friends come from miles around to dance in our new living room. That gave me great joy."

Although money was not plentiful, McEntire felt her family was rich. With good home-cooked meals on the table each day, the family car trips to watch her father's rodeo competitions, and the close proximity of relatives all gave her a sense of contentment. She felt particularly close to her maternal grandmother, for whom she is named. "She seemed to understand children in the way only grandmothers can," says McEntire. "She knew how to make a little country girl feel special. She is also the person who introduced me to Jesus Christ. She and I would go fishing, and she would tell me Bible stories while we sat waiting for the fish to bite. Today, my faith is the most important thing in my life."

Looking back, McEntire considers her mother to be her most significant mentor. "She's a very smart woman. She is the one who taught me that if I was going to do something then I'd better do it. She taught me not to judge others. My mama wanted to be a country singer when she was young, but the opportunity wasn't there for her. Later, she put aside her ambitions to encourage her children to dream and take advantage of opportunities, no matter how small. I believe there is a special place in heaven for people as unselfish as my mama."

Some of McEntire's fondest memories are of the car trips she made with her family to watch her father compete. "Our car didn't have a radio, so my mother taught us to sing in harmony," she says. "It seemed like we were always singing. Eventually, we formed a vocal group called the Singing McEntires with myself, my brother, Pake, and my younger sister, Susie. We sang at rodeos, and when we were older we got some paying jobs in honky-tonks and dance halls. At the end of the night, we would each make about $13."

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McEntire always enjoyed school. In the fifth grade, she sang in the 4-H Share-the-Fun talent show and won first prize in the Junior Individual Act Division. "That was my first trophy, and I was bitten by the show business bug," she says. In high school, McEntire joined the Kiowa Cowboy Band, which sang at football games and other events.

McEntire thought a lot about her future, always envisioning fame for herself. After watching the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards on television, she would go to her room and practice her acceptance speech in front of the mirror. She says, "I knew that one day I would be famous."

Before Reba could pursue her music career more seriously, her mother insisted she attend college. In 1974, she entered Southeastern Oklahoma State University, where she majored in elementary education and minored in music. To help pay her tuition, she continued to work on her father's ranch. "Every other day, I would load 30 50-pound sacks of feed into a truck my daddy bought for me when I graduated high school. I drove to the ranch and fed Daddy's steers, and in the three-and-a-half years it took me to graduate, I never lost a steer."

McEntire kept a horse at school so she could keep in shape for rodeo weekends. She began running barrels when she was 9, and at 11 she was competing in rodeos. While in college, she competed in 50 rodeos a year until she was 21. She also joined the Chorvettes, a singing and dancing group that performed on campus and in neighboring towns.

During her sophomore year, in 1975, she sang the national anthem at the National Rodeo Finals in Oklahoma City. Also performing that day was Red Stegall, a country music singer and songwriter. Impressed by McEntire's performance, he invited her to Nashville to record a demo tape. As a result, she was signed with Polygram Mercury Records, and her first single "I Don't Want To Be a One Night Stand," was released in 1976. The following year, she achieved one of her greatest dreams when she made her Grand Ole Opry debut.

In 1984, McEntire signed with MCA Nashville Records and released My Kind of Country, which produced two No. 1 singles: "How Blue" and "Somebody Should Leave." That same year, she won the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award for the first time. She would go on to win this award for four consecutive years (1984-1987) and become the most-nominated female in CMA Awards history. The year 1986 brought further honors, as she joined the Grand Ole Opry and was named CMA Entertainer of the Year.

With her career in full swing, McEntire recorded the 1991 album Broken Heart, which she dedicated to lost loved ones and specifically her band members who were tragically killed in a plane crash. "This album means the most to me of all my albums," she says. "It expresses my feelings of hurt and my hope for healing. My thoughts were reflected in the words of the title song, '˜I guess the world didn't stop for my broken heart.'" That album, which is certified quadruple platinum, won the Country Album of the Year at the American Music Awards in 1992.

Today Reba McEntire is one of the most successful female recording artists in history, having sold more than 56 million albums worldwide. Her creative and entrepreneurial endeavors have established her as a household name across music, television, film, theater, and retail. Her New York Times best-selling autobiography, Reba: My Story, was released in 1994. Proving her business acumen, she expanded her lifestyle brand with lines sold in Dillard's nationwide since 2005 and a recent collaboration with Justin Boots, Reba by Justin.

Parlaying her life experiences and entertainment from stage to screen, McEntire is an acclaimed actress with 11 movie credits and a lead role on Broadway; she also starred in the six-season television sitcom Reba which is now in syndication on CMT and ABC's Freeform.

Most recently, her dual chart-topping album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope earned McEntire her first Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Award for Bluegrass/Country/Roots Album of the Year as well as a 2018 Grammy for Best Roots Gospel album. As a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, she has won 15 American Music Awards, 13 Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards, 9 People's Choice Awards, 6 CMA Awards, 2 Grammy Awards, an ACM Career Achievement Honor, CMA International Artist Achievement Award, the National Artistic Achievement Award from the U.S. Congress, and more.

"My career has been such a blessing, I don't even know how I would have dreamed for such a thing," says McEntire. "In the early days, I dreamed of winning awards. Once you win, you want it over and over. That great feeling of love and acceptance is indescribable. I don't know if I will ever get over wanting to win. But I have found out there are different ways of winning, like being on a winning team."

Since she was a young girl, McEntire has related to people through music. She says, "Every night before I go on stage, I say, '˜Lord, if there's somebody in the audience that needs a message from you, please let me be the messenger.' God gave me the gift of my voice, so I want him to use me, anytime, anywhere, and any place. That's what makes me most proud about my career, being able to sing songs that touch people's hearts. Music is therapeutic and healing. It's as if it is waiting to be there for you when you need it, just like a good friend."

McEntire's advice for those who face challenges is to not take life for granted. "That's what I have learned about hard times," she says. "I've learned to appreciate the breath I get every day."

Honored by her Horatio Alger Award, McEntire says, "I think becoming a Member is going to broaden my thinking and the way I approach helping people. I hope that for the Scholars I can share with them some things that I learned from Mama and Daddy and my sisters and brother. This is a great opportunity for me to do that."

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