After getting a start in country music by playing honky-tonks, singer Reba McEntire said she eventually had to stop performing in the establishments. Though she had a good reason for doing so, someone close to her told her the decision would inevitably ruin her career. Who discouraged her choice and what reason did she have for standing firm?
Reba McEntire said her sinuses were ‘killing her’ after starting her career in honky-tonks
In the 1994 autobiography, Reba: My Story, McEntire shared she played her last honky-tonk in in Texas in 1982. After the show, her sinuses were “inflamed and infected” and that was nothing new. Being allergic to cigarette smoke, she was having a harder time getting through her sets at the smoke-filled clubs.
So, McEntire called her first husband, Charlie Battles, who was handling her shows and schedule. “I’m not playing another club,” she told him. “Don’t book me into another club.”
As McEntire was sure to clarify in her writing, she didn’t have anything against honky-tonks. In fact, she said she felt playing them was a good way for a performer to stay “close to the grass roots.” But she’d personally been dealing with the side effects of smoke allergies — burning throat and eyes — for five years and felt her low tolerance for the environment was a sign to “get out of the nightclubs and onto the concert stage.”
In the end, McEntire was sure she was making the right decision. But there was someone close to the country icon who believed the opposite.
Charlie Battles told Reba McEntire, “You’ve just ruined your career.’
As McEntire wrote in her autobiography, she called Battles with a demand for him to stop booking honky-tonks for the sake of her health. “You’ve just ruined your career,” she recalled him saying, to which she told him, “I don’t care.”
She worried if she continued singing in the clubs despite her allergy, she would eventually ruin her voice. Then, she wouldn’t have any chance at all of continuing as a singer. But he insisted to her “several more times” her someday iconic career was finished because nightclubs were such frequent venues.
“But I had made my decision,” she wrote, “and I stood by it.”
Inevitably, it seemingly paid off as the Statler Brothers asked McEntire to tour with them the same year. “I know in my heart I wouldn’t have become a part of their tour if I hadn’t put my foot down about not playing in clubs,” she concluded.
Reba McEntire and Charlie Battles were married from 1976 to 1987
Notably, McEntire was 21 when she married Battles in 1976. He was ten years older and had two children, but they had a lot of common interests. Specifically, they were both regulars on the rodeo scene and enjoyed ranching.
But as McEntire detailed in Reba: My Story, the marriage to Battles was unable to withstand the pressures of her rise to fame and was soon “unraveling.” She said Battles seemed to grow resentful of her success. However, she didn’t decide to leave until he took money from her purse and was angry after she confronted him.
“One thing led to another and for the first time in our life together, I thought Charlie was going to hit me, as he reared back with his shaving kit in his hand,” she recalled.
As Battles became less involved in her career around the time of that incident, he asked McEntire to slow down. But her country music stardom was just beginning and she eventually decided to end the marriage. They were officially divorced in 1987.
“I guess I chose my career over my marriage,” she said of her first divorce per CNN. So, it seems she didn’t regret choosing the health of her sinuses over playing nightclubs or choosing her career over an “unraveling” marriage.
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