Loretta Lynn’s smile grew wider when her friend Reba McEntire took the stage. “If you’re lookin’ at Loretta, you’re lookin’ at country,” Reba sang, switching up Loretta’s own lyrics to pay tribute to the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” at the Kennedy Center Honors back in 2003. 

It’s little surprise that a sweet friendship blossomed between Loretta, 88, and Reba, 65. A trailblazer in a traditionally male-dominated genre, Loretta gave Reba the courage to pursue a country music career. “She was the ideal for Reba — confident, talented, nobody’s fool and a woman who stood up for herself in her songs,” says a Reba friend. Being compared to Loretta is still “the best compliment they can give me,” adds the star, who grew up listening to the legendary singer. 

Reba fondly recalls being 11 and asking Loretta for an autograph the first time they met at an Oklahoma rodeo where Loretta was performing. “I whipped off my belt for her to sign, and, man, I wish I still had that belt,” Reba says. 

Years later, Loretta would mentor Reba just as the legendary Patsy Cline had championed her early in her career. “Loretta helped put Reba on the road to success,” notes a friend, who confides that Loretta suggested that she record Patsy’s classic “Sweet Dreams.” 

Reba’s cover of the song would become her first Top 20 hit in 1979. Since then, it has been Loretta’s turn to be inspired. “I’ve caught myself trying to learn things from her — anybody that didn’t try to learn something from Reba, they don’t know much!” says Loretta, who also jokes about partying with her friend. “We’re not going to do that,” she amended, “but Reba, you’re my girl.”

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