As a four-time CMA Female Vocalist winner and a former Entertainer of the Year, Reba McEntire is no stranger to accolades for her accomplishments, but one of the singer’s most memorable CMA moments had nothing to do with her vocal prowess.
In 1993 when the star stepped on stage to perform her hit duet “Does He Love You,” with Linda Davis (mom to Lady Antebellum singer Hillary Scott), “everybody gasped!” recalls Vince Gill, who hosted that night.
The singer was wearing a red velvet gown with a plunging view obscured only by a few well-placed sparkles. “It was very revealing and I didn’t know that!,” Reba says in PEOPLE’s Special Edition: 50 Years of the CMA Awards. “I had only had two fittings with [designer] Sandy Spika. One was at our office and I said, ‘I think you need to fill some more stuff in!’ When I put it on in the dressing room at the Grand Ole Opry for the show, I thought, ‘Maybe it’s just the lighting in here.’ And when I walked out on the stage, I heard the audience go ‘Oooooh!’ And I thought, ‘Dang, I look good!'”
She certainly did — but it left her country music family a little shocked. “I mean, Reba is a beautiful woman, but she’s like your sis! She is to me,” Gill says. “But what’s great about that moment was that it was unexpected out of Reba.”
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Although McEntire says her dad gave her a gentle ribbing afterward — “Daddy said, ‘Did you have that thing on backwards?'” she laughs — the gown definitely served its purpose. “I didn’t win an award, but I did make the front page of the paper the next day!” she says.
As a former tomboy, who wore “hand-me-downs my whole life,” McEntire says she loves glamour of the awards night. “To have brand-new clothes that are sparkly… I’m like Dolly [Parton]. I love sparkle and shine all day long!”
Two years before she donned that famous red dress, another gown and another CMA performance made a more emotional impression. In March of 1991, McEntire lost several members of her band and her tour manager in a plane crash. As a tribute to them she sang “For My Broken Heart” at that year’s CMAs, which she hosted and which country music fan President George H.W. Bush attended, the only president who’s done so.
“Sandi Spika worked her fingers to the bone to make me the most beautiful outfits that night and I felt like Cinderella,” McEntire says. “I think it was her effort to get me out of the depression and the loss that we had. And it did help tremendously. And then to have the president there and Mrs. Bush — what an honor for country music. It was a very special night.”
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What do you think of her memorable look?