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Educating Reba McIntire

How did a proud, red-haired okie build an empire from a voice of gold and nerves of steel?

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Reba McEntire has been busy researching her autobiography, due out this spring from Bantam Books, and she is, quite frankly, appalled by her ancestors. ”They ran with the outlaws,” she says one afternoon in her Nashville office. ”They weren’t like Jesse James, but they knew Jesse James real well.” Her paternal great-grandfather was the worst of the bunch. ”He never took a bath in his life,” she says. ”He put his vest on the back of a chair, and the chickens would roost on it, and he never wiped the droppings off.”

McEntire, 38, kicks off her white sneakers and sips from the straw poking into the lid of a soft drink cup that looks about as big as she does. Her hair is tossed up in its trademark tease. Her crossed legs are shrink-wrapped in denim. She remembers, with some incredulity, one more thing about that great- grandfather: ”He always had a necktie.”

Like her raucous forebear, McEntire knows how to get dressed up, but there’s some fierce, go-to-hell, Okie determination beneath those sequined gowns. Aided by her second manager/husband, Narvel Blackstock, she rules an expanding empire called Starstruck Entertainment and has amassed an estimated $10 million-plus personal fortune. She has been dubbed, with some justification, the Oprah Winfrey of country music.

Consider this month alone. She appeared in the CBS TV movie The Man From Left Field, opposite Burt Reynolds. Her 21st album, Greatest Hits Volume Two, opened in the top 10 on both the country and pop charts, while her double-platinum album It’s Your Call was still doing nicely on both lists in its 43rd week. She played 16 concerts, and her 1992 tour was the third-highest-grossing country road show, behind Garth Brooks’ and Alan Jackson’s. Like Dolly, Barbra, Frank, Garth, and Liza, Reba is known on a first-name basis. ”She was a great student in school,” says her husband. ”She was the kid that all the parents said, ‘Why don’t you be more like Reba?”’ Here’s what this very quick study has learned in her quest to conquer the world.

NEVER LET A SHOTGUN STAND BETWEEN YOU AND A DOLLAR They were cold, the Oklahoma nights. The McEntire kids—Reba; her big brother, Pake; and her sisters, Susie and Alice—sat shivering outside the cattle guard leading to their daddy’s ranch outside Kiowa, population 873. Earlier that day, 8-year-old Reba had mimeographed a sheet of homemade deer-hunting ”tickets,” typed up by her mother, down at the school where her mama taught all grades. Now here they sat, tickets in hand, waiting for the hunters’ pickups.

”We’d stop them at the cattle guard before they got on our place and we’d charge them a dollar a person,” says McEntire. It is clearly a memory of which she is proud. ”That was our Christmas money. The hunters would argue with us. They’d say, ‘(Your uncle) Keno said we could come in, and we could hunt for free.’ Nuh-uh.” The cheapskates made Pake mad, but Reba admired their nerve. Still, no pickup crossed Reba’s path without first depositing a couple of bills in her pocket.

MAMA KNOWS BEST Like his father before him, Reba’s father, Clark McEntire, is a champion steer roper. He instilled in his four children the thrill of competition and the pleasures of victory. When he won a new car through steer roping, he swapped it for 40 acres, which he has since increased to about 17,000, and he is still an active rancher at age 67. He wasn’t big on sentiment, however. “Daddy never gave me a Christmas present in my life,” says Reba, with the curious pride of the deprived. “Never.”

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