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Reba records ‘Duets’ with bevy of country, pop stars
Homespun diva loves Justin, Kelly and her gay fans

by Peter Galvin

Reba McEntire on gay marriage: ‘I think it’s very unfortunate that a person can’t marry who they want to marry.’

What do you do next when you’re the owner of an iconic voice — fierce and powerful, clear and passionate — that everyone knows the moment they hear it, have sold 49 million records and are beloved by fans the world over for your genre-bending artistry that spans the worlds of music, screen and stage?

Well, if you’re Reba McEntire, you find 11 creative soulmates, record a song with each one and compile the tracks into a powerful, beautiful collection simply titled “Reba Duets” (in stores now).

The list of singers who showed up to match their voices to Reba’s signature sound reads like a Who’s Who of popular music: LeAnn Rimes, Ronnie Dunn, Kelly Clarkson, Rascal Flatts, Trisha Yearwood, Carole King, Kenny Chesney, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Justin Timberlake and Don Henley.

McEntire and Clarkson’s diva-worthy cover of Clarkson’s “Because of You,” the album’s first single, is McEntire’s fastest climbing song since the summer of 1998 (“Forever Love”), recently peaking at number two on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.

“Duets” was a long time coming, says McEntire.

“You have to keep creating things, thinking about what’s next and how to keep it fresh for your fans,” she explains. “I’ve always thought a duets album would be a great thing to get to do, and the timing was finally right to make it happen.”

It’s the star’s devotion to keeping things fresh that brings her audience back again and again.
“The great thing about it is, my fans have always continued to go along with me on these journeys I take, whether it’s television, music, Broadway or movies.”

Here, the singer talks about the thrill of working with Clarkson and Timberlake, the fun she had on Broadway in “Annie Get Your Gun,” and her appreciation for her fans both gay and straight.
How did the idea for this album come about?

It was Narvel, my manager and husband, who came up with the idea. We were just going into the recording studio like we always do and Narvel said, “Why don’t we do a duets record?” You know, I just love harmonies, so I jumped at the chance to team up with other singers.

‘Reba Duets’ with pop stars Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson and Don Henley on new studio album.

How did you decide who was going to be on the album?

I just went after some of my favorite singers. I was looking for half of the singers to be from the pop world and half from the country world. I made phone calls, sent emails, and I was thrilled by the people who said yes. Only two on my wish list fell off — because of different scheduling issues — Annie Lennox and Steve Perry.

Did working with pop singers influence your vocal style at all?

No, not at all. I didn’t want to sing pop songs. I wanted the pop people to come over and sing country songs.

Your voice blends so beautifully with these singers. Justin Timberlake, who some might think of as an unexpected duet partner for you, sounds amazing when he’s harmonizing with you on “The Only Promise That Remains.”

When I asked Justin to be a part of the record, he said, “I’m going to write a song for you.” I didn’t know if it was going to be “SexyBack 2!” But when he came to the studio and played it for me, I just loved it. It’s a beautiful Celtic love song. You know, Justin’s a country boy, from Memphis, and he can do just about anything. I’m amazed by him. And he’s cute as a button, too.
Did you consciously try to avoid having “Because of You,” which you do with Kelly Clarkson, sound similar to Kelly’s own hit version?

Kelly and I had already recorded a brand new song together prior to this for “Crossroads” on CMT. We also sang each other’s songs on the show. So, we were very familiar with each other vocally. When it came time to do “Because of You,” Kelly said, “Right on.” There was no worrying that she had just had a hit with it. You know, I think of “Because of You” as a country song. I feel like crying when I sing it; it’s like therapy for me every time.

You’re known for your love of narrative songs. Can you talk a little about that?

I just love stories. My grandpap was a great storyteller. I used to just love to sit and listen. And I love great storytelling songwriters, people like Dolly Parton and Tom T. Hall. That’s why I love the song “Fancy” so much. You know, one year, we even did a whole tour that was the story of my life.

“Sleeping with the Telephone” references the war in Iraq. Were you looking for a song that could express the times we’re living in?

No, I don’t go into projects saying I want to sing a song about this or that. I look for songs that are going to touch my audiences. When I heard that song, I said, “Whoa, I gotta have it.”
What kind of music do you listen to? Are you a pop music fan?

I don’t listen to a lot of music. I’m so busy with music that when I get in the car, I usually like peace and quiet.

Did you notice that you had a lot of gay fans after doing “Annie Get Your Gun” on Broadway?
I knew before that. When you meet 400 people after a show at meet-and-greets, you just know that some of your fans are gay. I see them in the audience, I meet them when they’re coming through the line, and I get plenty of letters. Gay or straight, I’m so appreciative of my fans. Without them I wouldn’t have a job. I trust them to give me feedback. They let me know what they like. It’s a great gauge of how I’m doing.

Did you get any flack from the theater community when you did “Annie Get Your Gun” because you were an outsider to Broadway?

I understand how the theater community would not want a person from another genre — a stranger to the business — taking away a dream job from one of their own. But what I appreciate so much is they gave me the chance to prove myself. They just embraced me. And I was so passionate about that part. I would stand offstage just so excited to get onstage and play my part.

Did you know any gay people when you were growing up in Oklahoma?

Not at all. Not until college.

What happened then?

I started hanging around the music department [laughs]. I had a music teacher, Bob Pratt, who taught me so much about singing. He helped me develop my voice and gave me such a passion for music. I just loved him so much. Gay or not, I made a lot of friends in the music department. It didn’t matter to me. I mean, I was a hick from the sticks, and they accepted me.
Do you have any thoughts on gay marriage?

I have friends who have told me that if their partner gets sick, they wouldn’t be allowed in the hospital room because they’re not considered immediate family and they have no spousal rights. I think it’s very unfortunate that a person can’t marry who they want to marry. Everyone should take care of their own business without judging others. Like I always say, “Don’t judge me unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.”

info: www.reba.com

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