May 14, 2001
Photo Editor Kathryn McCarver

“I talk like Annie Oakley –like a hick,” says McEntire. “I’m very proud of it.”

Reba McEntire used to be married to a rodeo cowboy named Charlie Battles. She divorced him in 1987, and for at least one very compelling reason: After she'd had some 30 country hits, Battles wanted her to retire. "He wanted me to slow down, sit on the back porch and watch the creek running,” says McEntire, who felt that at that point, 14 years ago, she was just getting started as a performer. Since then, she has had about 50 more country hits. But that's only half the story. Last January, at 45, McEntire made her theatrical debut on Broadway as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. The critics raved, saying she had eclipsed Bernadette Peters, who won a 1999 Tony in the role, and ticket sales quadrupled after McEntire replaced Cheryl Ladd.

Based on that success, CBS has announced that McEntire will star in a TV version of the musical and her run in New York has been extended until late June. Meanwhile, the WB network is developing a family sitcom for McEntire that could be on the air next season ‑ after her national concert tour. If you're listening Mr. Battles, this is what she meant.

McEntire holds no grudges, though, and says she is just happy to be hanging out a bit longer in New York "No matter what time it is, if you're hungry, you can get a bite to eat," she says. "You can't do that in Chockie, Oklahoma."

McEntire can still sound like the tomboy who grew up on her father's cattle ranch outside of Chockie (population: 32), but she is also a hard‑nosed businesswoman who knows what she wants and what's best for her. Two years after her first marriage ended in divorce, she wed Narvel Blackstock (their son, Shelby, was born in 1990), a band member who a year earlier had become her manager ‑ and who understood her need to achieve. "You have to have somebody on your side that is 100 percent for you," says McEntire.

While McEntire's music career thrived in the '90s ‑ nine albums have sold more than a million copies each ‑ her work as an actor developed gradually, with a few small parts in movies like 1990's Tremors, the current One Night at McCool’s and a leading role in the 1999 TV movie Secret of Giving.

McEntire admits that lately she hasn't seen much of her husband and son, who have been commuting to New York from Nashville every week or so. When Shelby recently turned 11, the family celebrated by having lunch in midtown Manhattan, heading downtown for bowling, back uptown for Rollerblading and finally way downtown for dinner. "He loved it, but I was exhausted," says McEntire. "And there went my only day off"