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Reba McEntire

Reba helped make "Annie Get Your Gun" one of the hottest shows on Broadway in 2001.  

She was discovered belting out the National Anthem at an Oklahoma rodeo when she was 19 years old.

Since then, Reba McEntire has played the Grand Ole Opry and the Great White Way.

Now, the reigning country music queen has a TV sitcom and is rocking across America on a high-tech, high-energy concert tour.

"My gosh, if you told me I was doing a Broadway play and a sitcom this year, I would've said, 'No, probably not me ... you got your people mixed up,'" McEntire said in 2001.

But after wowing New York audiences with her performance in the title role of "Annie Get Your Gun," the 46-year-old country diva is in a sitcom on the W.B. called "Reba." (The W.B. and CNN are both owned by AOLTimeWarner.) While the daughter of an Oklahoma steer roper might seem surprised by her success on stage and screen, colleagues on the country music scene are not.

"If you go to see her live show, she's just 'on,'" said country singer Martina McBride. "She's definitely one of the greatest singers we have in country music."

Country superstar Tim McGraw believes Reba is one of a kind. "You hear her and you know exactly who it is," he said. "Nobody else can sing like that."

For more than 10 years, Reba and ex-husband Charlie Battles split their time between ranching together and having separate careers. Ultimately Reba chose her career over her relationship with Battles.  

New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley is also a fan. "There is a sense of the vultures gathering when someone crosses over from another world onto Broadway," Brantley said. "I think Reba disarmed people immediately as soon as she stepped on the stage. She fills that huge theater."

Born in 1955 in Chockie, Oklahoma, a town of 18 people, McEntire grew up on a cattle ranch. Her first love was not music. It was barrel racing.

The third of four McEntire kids, Reba loved the competition and the Western romance of the rodeo. She wanted to be a barrel-racing champion. But she wasn't really that good.

"She liked the horse to go pretty fast, but not real fast," said her sister, Alice Foran McEntire.

Reba's father, Clark, offered some advice: "I said, 'Anybody that's got a natural talent, I hate to see them waste it on runnin' them old barrels.'" In 1974, Clark suggested that Reba, who was enrolled at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, sing at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City.

That's where she got her break. "I heard this girl sing the National Anthem and she just blew me away," said recording artist Red Steagall, who was at the rodeo that day. Steagall helped McEntire land a record deal with Polygram Mercury.

She left her rodeo dreams behind, but not her favorite cowboy. In 1976, McEntire married a divorced steer-wrestling champion named Charlie Battles. He was 31 and she was 21.

Reba rocks her concert audience as the reigning queen of country music.  

"I loved Charlie with all my heart, I wanted to marry him ... We had a lot of fun," McEntire said. "We rodeoed together, we ranched together."

Also in 1976, her career started to move forward. A single, "I Don't Want to be a One Night Stand," reached No. 88 on the Billboard country charts. The next year, she released an album, "Reba McEntire." And in 1982, her single, "Can't Even Get the Blues No More," reached Number One.

In 1984, McEntire left Polygram Mercury to sign with MCA, taking control of the direction of her career and, according to singer McBride, setting an example for artists who wanted to "step out of the box and do different things."

It was then that McEntire's hit album "My Kind of Country" firmly established her as a star. It also brought her the first of four consecutive female vocalist of the year awards from the Country Music Association.

By the end of the 1980s, Reba would have a Grammy, but she would have lost a husband. Things had turned sour for her and Charlie Battles. He had asked her to slow down. She decided not to.

"I guess I chose my career over my marriage," she explained.

McEntire left the ranch she shared with Battles and in 1989 would marry Narvel Blackstock, a Texas-bred musician who had been the steel guitar player in her band and later her tour manager.

In 1990, McEntire and Blackstock had a son, Shelby.

Her life was shattered by tragedy in early 1991 when eight members of her band were killed when their chartered plane crashed after a show. McEntire had stayed behind. In May of that year, she dedicated the song, "For My Broken Heart," to the band.

Reflecting on the crash more than 10 years later, McEntire said it changed her life. "It made me realize so firmly that this second could be your last," she said.

McEntire, who has sold more than 46 million records, doesn't seem to waste many seconds at all. Her whirlwind world now consists of concert tours, TV studios and Broadway stages. And while you can take the gal out of the country, to New York theatergoers' delight, you can't take the country out of the gal.

Playing the title role of cowgirl Annie Oakley in "Annie Get Your Gun," McEntire turned the revival into one of the hottest shows in town. To critic Brantley, McEntire seemed right at home from the moment she stepped into the role. Her father, Clark, who saw the show, thinks he knows where she got some of the inspiration.

"First scene, I was 'shamed of her, truthfully," he said. "I had an aunt and an old grandpa that went around a way all the time and I said, 'Oh my goodness, Aunt Helen and Grandpap come out in her.'"

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