Forty-five years ago today (Sept. 17, 1977) is a day that Reba McEntire will likely never forget: It was on that date that McEntire made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry, fulfilling a dream that she’d had since her very first visit to the Opry, when she was just 7 years old.
McEntire’s family drove more than 700 miles from Oklahoma to see her perform that night. The country icon, who was 22 years old at the time, sang a cover of Roger Miller’s “Invitation to the Blues,” from her eponymous debut album. She was originally slated to sing two songs, but her time on stage was cut at the last minute, due to a surprise appearance by Opry member Dolly Parton.
“Dolly came walking in, and she was like a vision,” McEntire tells Nashville’s Tennessean. “It was worth the drive from Oklahoma just to see Dolly.”
McEntire, who was also planning on performing Patsy Cline‘s “Sweet Dreams,” almost didn’t get to even perform one song. When a guard mistakenly couldn’t find her name on the guest list, he refused to allow her admittance to the Opry. The young singer had to find a pay phone and contact her booking agent, who got her into the venue just in time.
In an interesting twist of fate, McEntire’s Opry debut occurred 30 years to the day after her father, Clark McEntire, won his first rodeo award.
In 1986, McEntire officially became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, during a televised special honoring the Opry’s 60th anniversary. She still performs on the revered stage as her schedule allows.
“The Grand Ole Opry is a home,” she says. “It’s a family. It’s like a family reunion, when you come back and get to see everybody.”
LOOK: Reba McEntire Through the Years
WATCH: Reba McEntire Plays “Wikipedia: Fact or Fiction?”