September 14, 1994 12:00 PM

Let those above-it-all rock and rap stars shrink behind their Ray-Bans and beefy bodyguards. In country, the pre-or sometimes post-performance “meet and greet” is regarded as a star’s sacred duty—and pleasure.

“This may sound corny, but for me the bottom line is that handshake, that hug, that ‘My child goes to sleep to your music,’ ” says Wynonna, 30, who receives 400 to 500 letters from her loyal following each day. “One of the reasons I kept going [after mom Naomi retired] was the fans.”

In fact the relationship is tighter than Billy Ray Cyrus’s jeans. Each June 24,000 of the faithful make pilgrimages from all over the world to Nashville’s Fan Fair, a week of concerts, thank-you parties (Reba McEntire’s hoedown feted 6,000 members of her fan club this year) and opportunities to chat briefly with a favorite star. Thousands more jam other fan events in Texas, Alabama and California. Then there are those who spend summers in campers following performers from city to city, or who decorate their homes, cars, even bodies with idols’ names and likenesses.

“They love me because I’m just like them,” says Wynonna. “They can walk right up to me and shake my hand. I’m not some sort of fantasy person.”

That was particularly clear earlier this year, when the unmarried Wynonna announced that she and boyfriend Arch Kelley III, a Nashville businessman, were expecting a baby. Some loyal listeners were upset. (“I’ve always said be married first,” she admits, adding, “This is something that happened—I do love the father. But I had a decision to make. I thought, ‘My mother [who became pregnant with Wy at 17] chose life with me.’ “)

Most fans have stuck by her. Wynonna has received hundreds of bootees, stuffed animals, toys and tiny T-shirts. “I’m going to keep everything,” says the singer, whose due date is Jan. 1. “The handmade gifts really touch my heart. And I save all the cards so that when my baby’s older, he or she can read them.”

Chances are the child will hear plenty more from those fans in the years to come. “People use your music as the backdrop for everyday life,” Wy says. “They live to your music, they work to it, they fall in love to it. But it’s more than just attaching to the music. They attach to the person.”

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