Reba McEntire Remembers Launching Career Singing Anthem at National Finals Rodeo in 1974

by Jennifer Shea

Country legend Reba McEntire recalls her rodeo days fondly. After all, it was singing the National Anthem at the rodeo that got McEntire her start in the music industry.

McEntire launched her music career while singing the National Anthem at the National Finals rodeo in Oklahoma City in 1974.

“I was going to go up there anyway,” McEntire explained to Cody Johnson in the documentary “Dear Rodeo.” “I loved to party and, after the rodeo, watch the barrel racing with all my buddies up there. And daddy was very smart. He said, ‘Reba, why don’t you get you a job if you’re gonna go up there?’ And I said, ‘Doing what?’ And he said, ‘Singing the national anthem.’”

McEntire sang the anthem from 1974 to 1984, at which point the show moved to Vegas. She’s sung the anthem several times there, too.

Reba McEntire Says Singing at Rodeo Launched Her Career

“Totally loved it,” McEntire said of the experience of singing the National Anthem at the rodeo.

It was at the rodeo that McEntire met Red Steagall, a songwriter, performer and actor who was born in Texas but was based in Nashville at that point.

“He was the one that said, ‘Jackie’ – to my mama – said, ‘Jackie, why don’t you bring Reba down and let’s see if we can get her a record deal,’” McEntire recalled. “And it was 11 months later I had a record deal with Polygraph Mercury Records.”  

“So it was the rodeo, the cowboys… and Red Steagall that kind of helped me on my way,” McEntire explained.

McEntire Later Returned to the National Finals Rodeo

In 2010 and 2017, McEntire returned to the National Finals rodeo, which had since moved to Vegas, to perform the anthem again.  

As McEntire looked back on her start in country music then, she recalled that Steagall had said he couldn’t help her at first, according to Rare Country.

“After the rodeo, we all went up to the Justin [boots] suite at the Hilton and we were all in this big suite and the guys were passing the guitar around, and somebody asked me to sing ‘Jolene,’ no ‘Joshua.’ It was a Dolly Parton song. And so I did, and Mama got Red [Steagall] over to the side and said, ‘Is there any ways you can get my three kids into the music business?’” McEntire said in a behind-the-scenes video. “And he said, ‘Oh Jackie, I’m just fighting for myself right now.’”

It was a little while later, in January of 1975, Steagall had a change of heart. And thus a country star was born.

“[He] did call Mama back and said, ‘Why don’t we try Reba. Get her foot in the door and maybe we can bring Pake and Susie in later,’” McEntire recounted. “So, that’s what happened.”