Reba McEntire Recalls Nearly Getting Bumped for Dolly Parton Before First Opry Performance

Reba McEntire is a Grand Ole Opry icon now, but back in the '70s, the country star had a bit of trouble even getting in the building for her first performance at the famed venue.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” McEntire told Billboard. “I had just come to town and signed with Mercury, and everything was going fine. They said, 'You need to get an agent,' so I signed with Lavender and Blake, who got me a performance on the Grand Ole Opry for my very first time. It was going to be the weekend of September 17, 1977. I called Mama, so Mama and Daddy and Alice, my older sister, drove from southeastern Oklahoma to see me on the Grand Ole Opry.”

With her family in tow, the singer wasn't even on the list at first.

“We pulled up to the back gate, and Daddy says, ‘I got Reba McEntire here to sing at the Grand Ole Opry tonight.’ The guard looks at his clipboard, next page, next page, he says, ‘Nope, she's not on the roster here, so she's not singing tonight,’" she said. "Daddy says, "Oh sure she is, she's right back here in the backseat.’ He says, ‘Well sir, I don't have her on the list, so she's not singing.’ I said, ‘Daddy, let's go back over across the interstate to that Get-n-Go and I'll call my booking agent. They'll work it out.’ I got on the payphone, I called Shorty Lavender, he said, 'Okay, you just go right back over there. It'll be a little bit different.' Sure enough. we drove over there, Daddy rolled down his window. He said, 'Mr. McEntire, just take that [parking spot] right there.'"

While she eventually got in, McEntire soon learned her performance would be shortened, but she had no problem with the reason why.

“We went in and they came to me and said, ‘Reba, sorry, but we're going to have take one of your two songs,'" she recalled. "I said, ‘Why?’ They said, ‘Dolly Parton just pulled in the parking lot and she's going to take one of your songs.’ I said, 'Shoot, she can take both of them. Can I meet her?' They said, 'No, we just need one of them.'"

"Dolly walked by and she was in this beautiful black pantsuit," McEntire continued. "Black chiffon with butterfly rhinestones on it, and her hair was just beautiful. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I ever saw in my life.”

Despite the confusion, McEntire eventually made it to the stage. “I got my little outfit on, and I sang ‘Invitation to the Blues’ -- the Four Guys walked me out to the center of the stage and Charlie Walker introduced me,” she recalled.

The star recently returned to the Opry to host the annual CMA Country Christmas special, which will air Monday night on ABC.

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