– by Cindy Watts, The Tennessean
Reba McEntire is a self-described pack rat.
“I come by it honestly, because my mama is,” McEntire says. “I do, I just keep everything.”
And that’s music to Mick Buck’s ears.
Buck is the curatorial director at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and he’s in charge of organizing and assembling McEntire’s upcoming exhibit, “Reba: All the Women I Am.” The exhibit opens Friday for a 10-month run in the museum’s East Gallery.
“That gave us a real leg up as far as being able to figure out what story to tell,” Buck says of McEntire’s penchant for saving and labeling her mementos. “Otherwise, we would have spent months going through it, trying to figure out what it was and when it was from.”
The flame-haired singer’s passion for preservation is evident in a single glance around the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s private archival room. Situated just off the gallery space in a dim room behind locked doors, McEntire’s grade school track ribbons, high school scholastic achievement trophies, and report cards are neatly arranged on a large table.
Her first pair of cowboy boots are there, along with her first CMA award, her Grammy for “Does He Love You,” and a bag of Fritos from the mid-’90s and a metal lunchbox both emblazoned with McEntire’s face.
“We started archiving years ago,” McEntire explains. “When the Hall of Fame came and said we’d like to do an exhibit, we were halfway there.”
McEntire is lighthearted and chatty as she recalls sorting through her things to find those items, explaining that nothing was too personal for her to display. She says she even sent over a saddle of her daddy’s.
But when talk turns to another familial item, the singer falls silent.
On the table along with her trophies and shoes is a handwritten condolence letter from her niece that was penned following the 1991 plane crash that killed eight of McEntire’s band members. The letter says Chism, who was a child at the time, is sorry her aunt lost her bandmates and tells her she loves her.
McEntire tears up just thinking about it.
After taking a moment, McEntire calls the letter “very special” and says she thinks the exhibit will be a “roller coaster of emotion with a little bit of giggles.”
It also will be a study of country music stage fashion and red carpet looks that spans more than three decades.
McEntire was known in the ’90s for making as many as 15 costume changes a night during her live show. Sandi Spika Borchetta worked with the singer as her designer and stylist from 1987 to 2001 and made the bulk of the items that McEnitre wore on stage and on red carpets in that time period.
Ten years ago, Borchetta packed the intricately sewn outfits in boxes with acid paper to protect them, and the clothes didn’t see daylight again until Buck got his white-gloved hands on them for the exhibit.
“It will be super exciting,” Borchetta says of seeing her work displayed in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “I loved working with (McEntire) for years and it was my passion. She was super fun and we worked on things very closely and had a great creative relationship, so it will be amazing to see a lot of these things again.”
Multiple rolling racks of those often shiny, sequined items — including the infamous deeply cut, red sheer dress from the 1993 CMA Awards, the strapless green silk gown with the enormous train from her “If I Were a Boy” video, and her outfit from her run in “Annie Get Your Gun” on Broadway (not a Borchetta garment) — line the walkways in the archival room.
Behind them, dozens more boxes containing even more delicate threads are stacked in several rows that stretch from the floor to nearly the ceiling. More than 20 mannequins stand nearby waiting to be adorned with McEntire’s most recognizable duds.
Instead, he and co-curator Kayla Wiechmann had to sort through the boxes and find the outfits they thought would mean the most to the hall’s guests. The clothes and other items they don’t have room to display will be photographed and included in the exhibit or in the book that accompanies the exhibit, which also is entitled “Reba: All the Women I Am.”
The outfits will be displayed in categories, including a group of red dresses that McEntire always wore to sing her hit “Fancy,” which she says is one of her favorite moments in her live show. There also will be a section dedicated to her showbiz attire, including her outfit from her Broadway run in “Annie Get Your Gun,” which she says is a personal favorite.
“That was a period in my life that I never dreamed, in my wildest imagination, of being able to do a Broadway play of my hero,” McEntire says.
The singer idolized Annie Oakley since the first grade. She says she would spend her days — when their tiny black and white television worked —watching Oakley’s television show. Then, when her brother and sister got home from school, she would meet them at the bus and tell them what happened on “Annie Oakley.”
But as sentimental as many of these items are for McEntire, she’s enjoying reclaiming her house now that her memorabilia is at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. She says her “house just breathed a sigh of relief” when all of the memorabilia was sent over for possible display.
“I have a four-car garage and there’s not a car in it,” she laughs.
She says the items also were scattered throughout her home and that as late as three weeks before the exhibit was set to open, she would walk into a room and find several more things she thought the hall might like.
The singer realizes she shared much more than would ever fit in the hall’s display area but says the items in the cases will be rotated in and out over the life of the exhibit so that guests will continue to have a new and different experience at Reba: All the Women I Am.
One place the items aren’t going is back in McEntire’s house.
“This stuff is not coming back here,” she says. “That’s what my sister Alice said, ‘What are you going to do, open a museum?’ I said, ‘Nope, someone else can, but I’m not.’ I don’t know what I’m going to do with it all, I guess just put it in a warehouse storage somewhere, but it’s not coming back here.”