By Chris Talbott/ AP
Think of this as the Reba McEntire edition of the Country Music Association Awards.
Country music’s most recognizable woman is up for just one award, but she inspired and led the way for the new generation of female talent that swept through nominations this year.
Young singers like Miranda Lambert, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood admit they owe a debt to stars like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton — as do all female country performers. But it was Reba who was front and center during their childhood, pointing the way.
She won the CMA’s entertainer of the year in 1986 — around the time Lambert turned 3 and Scott was a few months old — and a quarter of a century later at 55, she’s still as vibrant and active as ever. She’s up for female vocalist of the year Wednesday night and is poised to release her 34th album, “All The Women I Am,” the day before.
“I think Reba has really shown what a woman’s career should look like,” said Lambert, who leads all nominees with nine. “She’s just a mogul. She works so hard and she looks better than she ever has and her music’s great still, it fits in no matter what.”
Mogul might just be the perfect word to describe McEntire. There’s been nothing one-dimensional about her career. Her albums come out like clockwork and each is peppered with hit songs she’s worked tirelessly to find, listening to thousands of submissions. She is among country music’s top touring draws. She’s the longtime host of the Academy of Country Music Awards and her surprise hit TV show remains in heavy rotation in syndication. She’s even done Broadway. And don’t forget her clothing and product lines.
She’s created the ideal country music career that everyone is striving for, and it’s been that way for as long as Scott remembers. The 26-year-old singer’s mother, Linda Davis, was a member of McEntire’s band and Scott grew up watching McEntire up close.
“Her presence and what she represents has never wavered for me,” said Scott, whose group is up for five awards. “It’s still like: She is Reba. She’s accomplished so much and she’s succeeded in every endeavor she’s went for. I think what I’ve learned from her, when she wants to do something and she wants to go for it, she goes for it. She puts her whole heart and soul and effort into it.”
One of the highlights of Scott’s young career was watching McEntire’s reaction to Lady A’s performance on the CMA Awards last year.
“I say this a lot, but one thing that’s really important to me is making her proud,” Scott said. “And whenever we were watching the CMAs after our performance and it shot straight to her and she had tears in her eyes, it was just the most overwhelming feeling in the entire world to see that because what she thinks is really important to me.”
McEntire relishes the role she plays for young performers. She’s pulling for all the women nominated and believes the genre needs more women both in front of the microphone and behind the scenes to truly thrive. She says she pays close attention to the genre’s women, and has had her eye on Lambert.
“I watch it,” she said. “I watch the charts. I watch the videos. I see what the younger acts are doing. They’re my competition but they’re also my friends and my peers that I’m working with, and I’m very proud of Miranda. She has struck gold this year with the songs she’s selected … I am very anxious to see how she maintains this, what she comes out with next and how she handles it.”
Just as the kids of today remember Reba at important times, Lynn, Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Kitty Wells and Anne Murray are never far from her thoughts.
“They broke down a lot of doors and barriers and were not going to sit over on the stool and be patted on the head and told when to sing and when not to sing,” she said. “They were the ones who opened the doors and kicked down the doors for me. I said when I won my first female vocalist of year award: ‘My boot’s in the door … and I’m going to do everything I can for country music and carry the banner for it all,’ and I have almost all over the world.” –AP reporter Caitlin R. King in Nashville contributed to this report.