Country superstar Reba McEntire launched her singing career on a patriotic note. In 1974, she got to sing the National Anthem at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. And it was there that songwriter and performer Red Steagall discovered her.
So perhaps it was only fitting that McEntire traveled to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas to sing the National Anthem in 2017, where she absolutely killed it.
“I can’t believe I am back here, all these years later, singing the National Anthem,” McEntire said in a behind-the-scenes video posted to her YouTube account. “It feels very strange without Red Steagall being by my side… Red is in the audience tonight, though. That’s what’s really fun. He got in yesterday.”
Reba McEntire and Rodeo Go Way Back
McEntire was a barrel racer herself back in the day, according to her website. And when the National Finals Rodeo took place in Oklahoma City in 1974, she was all set to go up there and have a good time.
“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.’”
So that is exactly what McEntire did. She wound up singing the National Anthem in Oklahoma City every year from 1974 to 1984. And after the show moved to Vegas, she sang it there a couple of times, too.
How McEntire Got Her Recording Contract
After the rodeo, McEntire and her family went up to a suite at the Hilton where a bunch of people had gathered. Steagall was among them.
“The guys were just passing the guitar around,” McEntire recalled in 2017. “And somebody asked me to sing ‘Jolene.’ No, ‘Joshua’ – it was a Dolly Parton song. And so I did. Mama got Red over to the side and said, ‘Is there any way you could get my three kids in the music business?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Jackie, I’m just fighting for myself right now.’”
But a few months later, in January of 1975, Steagall got back to McEntire’s mother. And according to McEntire, he said, “Why don’t we try Reba? Get her foot in the door, and maybe we can bring Pake and Susie in later.”
Eleven months after that, McEntire had a recording contract. And while her subsequent path to stardom hasn’t always been easy, she’s never forgotten where it all began.
Watch Reba McEntire singing the anthem here: