Reba: Country At Home In L.A.

Female Country Singer Right At Home In California

If you're looking for the most successful female country singer of the last 25 years, you won't find her in Nashville, or even on the road.

These days, Reba McEntire lives and works in Beverly Hills, Calif., where she's right at home.

The cast and crew of Reba's hit sitcom, "Reba," may be the happiest in television. And right now, they are also among the most successful. Correspondent Harold Dow reports.

"I love to come to work. I love to be around people who are funny, who have a great attitude, who love their job," says Reba.

"She's Oklahoma's version of Lucille Ball," says actor Chris Rich.

The success of Reba's new sitcom may have surprised Hollywood, but it was no surprise to Nashville or the rest of the country. For the last 25 years, everything Reba has touched has turned to gold and platinum.

Born in rural Oklahoma, Reba's earliest dream was to compete in the rodeo, like her father.

"Oh, I wanted to be the world champion barrel racer," says Reba. "I lived on a working cattle ranch. That's a male arena, right there. And the rodeo arena, male arena. So I knew it and I accepted it. And if you wanted to get ahead, you had to work 16 times harder."

But Reba said she soon found a way to stand out with her voice: "When I did sing, people listened. And I knew that's how I could get attention."

Her first big break came in 1974. With her father's prodding, she performed "The Star Spangled Banner" at the national rodeo finals and got an offer to record in Nashville. But when she got there, she discovered that Music Row was another man's world.

"It was totally dominated by men," recalls Reba. "I mean, Tammy Wynette, I can remember her telling stories like she'd go in to record an album and they'd tell her to go sit on that stool and we'll tell you when to sing and what to sing."

Reba played by the rules at first. And after a slow start, she began to put out hits. On the road, she was recognized nationally in the 1980s. Off the road, she was married to rodeo performer Charlie Battle, and lived and worked on an Oklahoma ranch of her own.

But Reba wasn't satisfied with the limits Nashville put on female singers. She wanted to be an even bigger star, and she wanted to sing music she chose. That's when Reba McEntire decided she wasn't a cowgirl anymore. Instead, she was going to be a pioneer.

"I divorced my husband, I fired my manager and I moved to Nashville. And I said, 'I'm gonna change things around,'" says Reba, who asked her former steel guitar player, Narvel Blackstock, to be her manager.

"I needed someone who believed in me. Because everybody else thought I'd peaked. Narvel's like, 'Oh, no. You just got your foot in the door. Now you can do anything you wanna do.' And then we fell in love. So it all meshed together."

Reba and Narvel were married, and they had a son, Shelby. And what came next amazed everyone in Nashville.

In the 1990s, Reba became perhaps the biggest female star in the history of country music. And she did it recording the music she wanted to record, and playing by her own rules.

She also did it all despite a searing tragedy.

"We were playing a private show in San Diego. And then we had another show the next night in Fort Wayne, Ind. Part of the band and crew got in one plane and the rest got in another plane. I stayed in San Diego," says Reba. "One plane took off and was flying straight to Fort Wayne, Ind. And the other plane hit the side of Otay Mountain."

Seven band members, and Reba's road manager, were killed in the crash.

"They were so talented. Funny. Oh my gosh, they were funny. It's a group of people that you can understand why God took 'em, because they were so special. But oh, by gosh, we missed 'em," says Reba.

"At first I didn't wanna get close to anybody ever again, 'cause I was afraid they'd be taken away. Dang it. And then I realized that can't be the situation. You've gotta embrace the people you're with. You've gotta take every minute as if it's your last. And so I just turned it around."

Reba turned things around by taking on new challenges, and crossing over from country music to movies and then to Broadway. Now, she's on TV every week.

"The hardest part for me is learning the lines. Because I've been used to all my life learning words that rhyme and are with the melody," says Reba. "But I get it by the time that they say, 'Roll that tape.'"

Reba, of course, never wanders far from her roots. She has a new album, her first in four years, coming out later this month.

"To get away from it for a while was really good for me," says Reba. "Because it gave me some space from the politics, from the business. It got me back to just the music and the lyrics and what I love."

The album's first single, "I'm Gonna Take This Mountain," is already one of the year's biggest hits. And it pretty much sums up Reba's life and career.

"It's a positive song, it's uplifting. And no matter what's happening in your life you can keep going," says Reba. "And I think people need to hear something inspirational."