Country Throwback: LeAnn Rimes Moves Reba McEntire to Tears With ‘The Greatest Man I Never Knew’ Cover

by Suzanne Halliburton

Reba McEntire, sitting next to her parents, probably was overwhelmed by all the attention, what with some of the most legendary names in country music singing her greatest hits as a tribute to her.

But McEntire definitely was having a good time, listening to the likes of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Barbara Mandrell serenade her during a CMT Giant concert in 2006.

In an interview, Reba McEntire said she couldn’t name her favorite moment. There were too many to count.

“That would be very hard for me to say, because the whole thing to me, top to bottom was total entertainment, ” McEntire said. It was “so much fun for me – the greatest part I’d have to say is that my girlfriends were there, my friends from TV and music were in the audience. And my family was there. That was just so special of a night; I really couldn’t pick out one thing.”

Allow us to pick a favorite moment. LeAnn Rimes, one of the youngest performers there, brought fans to their feet and Reba McEntire to tears.

Here’s the clip. Listen to Rimes’ wonderful performance of “The Greatest Man I Never Knew.” Wipe away your own tears, then hit us on the other side for back stage details.

LeAnn Rimes Was a Pro Singing To Reba McEntire

Rimes was only 24 when CMT asked her to be part of its Reba McEntire special. She was one of the youngest in the lineup, save for actress Dakota Fanning. But despite her young age, Rimes was a seasoned pro. She’d been entertaining us with her big, big voice since she was a 13-year-old from Garland, Texas, singing “Blue.”

Music critics liken Rimes to the late, great Patsy Cline. On this October night in 2006, Rimes sang one of Reba’s most heart-tugging songs “The Greatest Man I Never Knew.”

For Reba McEntire, “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” is one of her classics. She released it in July, 1992. The song peaked at No. 3 on the country charts. And it was the fourth single released from her album “For My Broken Heart.”

The album was especially emotional for Reba McEntire. It was put together as she still mourned the loss of eight of her band members who died in a plane crash near the U.S. border with Mexico in March, 1991, as everyone was returning from a private concert in San Diego.

Song Is About Writer’s Relationship With His Own Dad

Richard Leigh and Layng Martine Jr. co-wrote “The Greatest Man I Never Knew.” It was about Leigh’s relationship with his own father. Female singers, including Reba McEntire perform a lot of Leigh’s top work.

The signature song for Crystal Gayle, Loretta Lynn’s kid sister, is “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue.” Leigh wrote that song. He’s also written for The Chicks, Kathy Mattea and Barbara Mandrell.

The song Rimes sang is about a daughter — or a son — yearning for a closer relationship with her emotionally distant father. The dad worked a lot of hours. He never had much to say when he was home. He thought his daughter or son “hung the moon” but he never told that to his kids.

The final verse was an emotional gut punch. “The greatest words I never heard, I guess I’ll never hear. The man I thought could never die (has) been dead almost a year. He was good at business. But there was business left to do. He never said he loved me. Guess he thought I knew.”

LeAnn Rimes Wasn’t Immune To Emotion Generated by Reba McEntire Song

As she sang that night, Rimes wasn’t immune to the song’s emotions. She blinked back tears as she performed to a packed crowd at Los Angeles’ Kodak Theater. She had a close relationship with her dad, Wilbur Rimes. The two toured together when LeAnn was 9.

When Rimes finished the song, she stepped from the stage to embrace Reba McEntire. As the two hugged, McEntire told Rimes she’d done a wonderful job.

Then, McEntire introduced Rimes to her parents, Clark and Jaqueline. Thankfully, this song didn’t reflect the relationship Reba McEntire enjoyed with her parents. Clark McEntire, who died in 2014, was a champion steer roper. And the McEntire family would sing in the car coming back from Clark’s rodeo events.

The song’s message in 1992, 2006 and 2021 remains the same. Give your parents a call. Or pick up the phone and call your kids.

For more coverage Outsider coverage of Reba McEntire and LeAnn Rimes click here.