Interview: Blake Shelton, Reba McEntire raise $500,000 through tornado relief shows, featuring guests Kelly Clarkson, Susie McEntire-Eaton
A version of this story also will appear in Saturday’s The Oklahoman.
Blake Shelton and Reba raise $500,000 for Atoka Country tornado relief
The country music stars, who both hail from southeastern Oklahoma, played a pair of sold-out shows to help tornado-torn Tushka this week. Reba’s sister and fellow singer Susie McEntire-Eaton and “American Idol” champ Kelly Clarkson performed as special guests during Thursday’s show.
DURANT — Quick-witted country singer Blake Shelton often seemed in awe of co-star Reba McEntire during their sold-out tornado benefit concerts this week.
“She’s been … doing movies and TV. She’s an astronaut, she’s a doctor, she’s every freaking thing, I guess,” Shelton quipped from the stage Wednesday night during the first of their two shows benefiting the Tushka Disaster Relief Fund.
Add dynamic fundraiser to the list, too: Between the two charity concerts, Reba and Shelton raised $500,000 for Atoka County’s ongoing relief efforts. The co-headliners closed their set Thursday night by presenting a check to local officials.
“People were just happy, and it was a great show. … There was just lots of excitement and a lot of people pulling for that part of the state,” said Reba’s sister and fellow singer Susie McEntire-Eaton, who along with Texas native Kelly Clarkson performed as a special guest during Thursday’s show.
On April 14, an EF3 tornado ripped through the tiny Atoka Country town of Tushka, killing two women, injuring more than 40 people and destroying 150 homes, businesses and public buildings, including the local school. Two weeks later, Shelton and Reba, who were both born and raised in southeast Oklahoma, announced that they would perform a benefit show to aid those affected by the twister.
When Thursday’s show sold out in just two hours, they busy stars added the Wednesday concert.
“We’re thrilled to give you a little relief from all the hard work you’re doing cleaning up,” Reba told the crowd Wednesday night.
During both shows, Reba, the flame-haired farm girl from Chockie now known worldwide by her first name, and Shelton, the white-hot rising star born and raised in Ada, came out singing the lively duet “Oklahoma Swing.” The stars and their bands shared the stage their entire set and took turns playing their hits: Reba’s “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” and “Consider Me Gone” were on the set list with Shelton’s “All About Tonight,” “Hillbilly Bone” and “Some Beach.”
The co-headliners often backed each other on vocals and then traded quips and compliments between songs. During Thursday’s show, they also shared the stage with their guests. Reba and her sister sang together on “Big Blue Sky,” from McEntire-Eaton’s 2010 album “Passages.
“It was wonderful. I used to tour with Reba in ’80 to ’82, when I graduated from Oklahoma State, and it was awesome. I just enjoyed the heck out of it. We’ve both grown a lot in our music. And it was just relaxed and it was so much fun,” said McEntire-Eaton, who still lives on the family ranch in Chockie, about 30 miles from the greatest damage caused by the April tornado.
She also enjoyed watching her famous sibling, who was inducted Sunday in the Country Music Hall of Fame, perform with Clarkson. Reba and the “American Idol” champ belted
their hit duet “Because of You” as well as “Does He Love You,” Reba’s 1993 Grammy-winning collaboration with Linda Davis. In addition, Clarkson performed a few of her hits with Reba providing harmony vocals.
Both Clarkson and McEntire-Eaton performed in honor of Reba at Sunday’s Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony. Although many fans hoped to see Shelton’s new bride Miranda Lambert, who has lived the past few years in Tishomingo, at the benefit shows, she did not appear at either Durant concert. Lambert entered the studio Monday to record her new album.
Even before the $500,000 check was presented, McEntire-Eaton said, fans were excited about the benefit shows.
“They even applauded when they were gonna say the prayer,” she said.
After Shelton and Reba announced the fundraising total Thursday, they played their signature songs as solo encores: Shelton crooned his evocative prison-break tale “Ol’ Red,” while Reba powered through her southern Gothic hit “Fancy.”
Tushka Public Schools Superintendent Bill Pingleton said the stars’ efforts were a great pick-me-up. The elementary, middle and high schools, library and cafeteria all were destroyed in the tornado. The students finished school May 20, attending classes in the Kiamichi Technology Center, Tushka First Baptist Church and the sole surviving classroom building, which houses pre-kindergarteners through third-graders.
“We’re still pretty beat up, but we’re digging out. We’re making a lot of progress,” he said before Wednesday’s show. “We’re gonna rebuild.”
Contributing: The Oklahoman columnist Bryan Painter.
How to help
In addition to the proceeds raised from Blake Shelton and Reba McEntire’s benefit shows, a special mobile fundraising campaign has been set up with The mGive Foundation to raise funds for Atoka County relief efforts. Fans can text “OKGIVE” to 27722 to make a one-time $10 donation which will be added to their monthly cell phone bill. Funds will be donated to The mGive Foundation for the benefit of the Tushka Disaster Relief Fund.
Checks can also be made out to the Tushka Disaster Relief Fund and mailed to: 101 SE First Street, Tushka, OK 74525.