Born in Chockie, Oklahoma, McEntire grew up learning to ride in rodeos as well as play music. She soon formed a band with her sisters, Alice and Susie, and her brother, Jake, and the quartet had a local hit with "The Ballad of John McEntire", a tribute to their grandfather. After singinig the "Star Spangled Banner" at the National Rodeo Finals in Oklahoma City in 1974, Red Steagall suggested that McEntire go to Nashville to pursue a solo career.
With a contract to Mercury Records, McEntire began her professional career with a hard honky tonk sound, which didn't go over well at a time when country music was dominated by outlaw country artists like Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe. She soon married Charlie Battles and earned a teaching degree. "Three Sheets in the Wind"/"I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" became her first charting single in 1978 (see 1978 in music), and was followed by the bigger hit "(You Life Me) Up to Heaven" (1980, 1980 in music). With more pop-oriented balladry, McEntire began to expand her audience during the early 1980s, signing to MCA Records in 1984 (see 1984 in music) and becoming one of the best-selling country artists of the time. She won the Female Vocalist of the Year award from the Country Music Association four times, and had dozens of Top Ten hits during the 80s.
After divorcing Battles in 1987 (see 1987 in music), McEntire married Narvel Blackstock, a noted steel guitarist and the couple took control over all aspects of her career. Even without the major label support she had enjoyed in the 80s, McEntire continued to hit the charts through the 1990s, as well as appearing in television and film, most notably Tremors, a cult horror movie, and Steel Magnolias.