Country Throwback: Reba McEntire Covers Merle Haggard’s ‘Mama Tried’ in Heartfelt Tribute

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Reba McEntire honors the legacy of Merle Haggard, one of her personal music idols, in this country throwback.

Oklahomans have to stick together after all. And there’s no Oklahoman more famous than Merle Haggard or Reba McEntire in the country music biz. McEntire performs a heart-warming rendition of Haggard’s classic “Mama Tried” for audiences at the McCallum Theatre in 1989.

Before the song, McEntire shared what Haggard and his music meant to her as a little girl with big country music dreams. She and her siblings would listen to Haggard growing up.

“A lot of people ask me all the time, ‘Who are my musical influences?’” McEntire said. “There was another guy from Oklahoma – I had every album he ever put out. My older brother Pake and my little sister Susie and me, we sang every song he did…because Merle Haggard was a great influence on all of us.“

Merle Haggard Wrote ‘Mama Tried’ About Himself

But no one could ever replace Haggard on the song, not even McEntire. Haggard’s lyrics were so powerful because in many cases they were autobiographical. The country legend had a hardened edge that Johnny Cash could only dream about. In his youth, he was constantly in trouble with the law and breaking his poor mama’s heart.

Before he was a man, Haggard had escaped from jail on 17 separate occasions. He even planned an escape attempt at San Quentin, where he was shipped after a robbery and thwarted escape attempt. But Haggard didn’t go through with it, served his time, and became one of country music’s greatest.

Haggard wrote “Mama Tried” as a testament to the strength and resolve of his mother, who he kept disappointing. Fortunately, Haggard’s mother lived long enough to see him become a famous country singer. She passed away in 1984.

Reba McEntire Is a Mama’s Girl

But like Haggard, McEntire had a great love and fondness for her own mother Jacqueline Smith. McEntire’s mother encouraged her to pursue the dream that she never could. Growing up, Smith was one of her daughter’s biggest supporters. She even went with McEntire the first the future country music star came to Nashville.

When McEntire won her first CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1984, she broke down in tears and thanked her mother.

“The first time me and mama came to Nashville, she told me, she said, ‘Reba, I couldn’t do this. So I’m living my life and my dreams through you,’” McEntire said. “This is for me and mama and we thank you.”