WATCH: Reba McEntire Makes Ryman Debut with Stunning Performance in 1996

by Jim Casey

Reba McEntire made a stunning debut on the Ryman Auditorium stage in 1996 when she sang “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” with Barbara Mandrell.

It’s hard to believe that Reba McEntire had never performed on the Ryman stage until 1996. But it’s true.

When Reba made her Grand Ole Opry debut in 1977, the show was broadcast from its current Opryland location.

The Opry made its last broadcast from the Ryman in 1974, before moving to its custom-built Grand Ole Opry House. For the next decade or two, the Ryman remained largely unused as a performance venue due to its deterioration. In 1989, Gaylord Entertainment began to renovate the structure.

Reba & Barbara Prove Country Is Cool

For her Ryman debut in 1996, Reba teamed up with Barbara Mandrell to sing “I Was County When Country Wasn’t Cool.” Penned by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” was featured on Barbara’s 1981 album, Barbara Mandrell Live.

The song topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in July 1981. It also helped Barbara win the 1981 CMA Award for Entertainer of the Year for the second year in a row. Of course, Reba won the CMA’s top honor in 1986.

Before the vocal powerhouses belted out the tune in the empty auditorium, they shared their mutual admiration for one another. After Barbara revealed that this was the first collaboration between the two stars, Reba divulged her stunning revelation.

“Girl, I am so thrilled to be here at the Ryman with you,” said Barbara. “I love you so much. And this is the first time—you know, I’ve always wanted us to do something together. And this is the first time.”

“It is, and I’m really glad that my first time to get to sing on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium is with you,” added Reba.

“This is your first? Are you kidding me?” said Barbara. “I’m not kidding you at all,” replied Reba.

Watch the two superstars sing one of Barbara’s signature hits.