A Country Christmas with Susie McEntire (L) will feature guest Linda Davis (R) this year. The concert benefitting Toys For Tots is Dec. 12 in the Lakeview Middle School auditorium. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seating will be limited to 350 in the auditorium. Photos provided.
A Country Christmas with Susie McEntire (L) will feature guest Linda Davis (R) this year. The concert benefitting Toys For Tots is Dec. 12 in the Lakeview Middle School auditorium. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seating will be limited to 350 in the auditorium. Photos provided.
Susie McEntire and Linda Davis’ paths have crossed over the years, but they’ve never shared a stage together.

That could change Dec. 12 when the two gospel/country music artists take to the Lakeview Middle School stage for the seventh annual “A Country Christmas.” Doors open at 6 p.m., with Davis opening the event at 7 p.m.

While the event is free, attendees are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to Toys For Tots. Seating is limited to 350 and masks are required throughout the show due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Susie McEntire, the sister of country music legend Reba McEntire, spoke from her home in Oklahoma Wednesday for this interview. Davis, who had the 1993 hit song “Does He Love You” with Reba and is the mother of Hillary Scott, singer for Lady A (formerly Lady Antebellum), spoke from her home in Nashville, Tenn.

Interview With Susie

Susie said she started performing out this year in Rapid City, S.D., and then to Guthrie, Okla., which was the week her 93-year-old mother died.

“That was the very beginning of COVID for us, about the 14th of March, and then everything cancelled between March and then finally we had a concert in Texas Oct. 9. So coming around to Warsaw, that’s it,” she said.

She watched the Country Music Association special on television Tuesday and thought it was really heartfelt. “These artists were talking about how they’ve had to cancel dates. They paid their employees, their bands, until they couldn’t pay them anymore and tried to help them get unemployment. It’s just been a hard time for the whole music industry,” she said.

Reba hosted the CMA Awards Wednesday night. Lady A was scheduled to perform during the show, but cancelled due to an unspecified family member being diagnosed with COVID.

On her mother’s passing, Susie said she had cancer.

“I’m just glad she escaped all the things that have gone on since. She was very active in the political world, and she was up on all of that. I’m just glad she escaped the COVID pandemic. She’s good. She’s up with her Father and she’s alright,” Susie said.

She is looking forward to returning to Warsaw.

“We have friends there, and, of course, (concert organizer) Mike (Loher) comes back to Oklahoma and so does Pastor (Rob) Seewald, so it’s like a reunion around Christmas time. It’s something we’ve been doing for a long time and we’ve got lots of friends there and it’s just like coming home,” Susie said.

With the addition of Davis, who used to tour on the road with Reba, Susie said she and her husband Mark Eaton will probably change up this year’s concert a little bit.

“Mark and I have a couple of new songs we want to do and it’s just really going to be good,” Susie said. “You’ve got staple songs you think, ‘Oh, man, maybe I should do something different. Maybe I should do this and do that.’ But it’s Christmas and people expect to hear Christmas songs. And as long as I’ve been alive – I just celebrated my 63rd birthday – I want to hear Christmas songs at Christmas time. So we’re going to do that, some with a little bit different twist, some with a little bit different flair, but it will be celebrated, the birth of Jesus Christ.”

She wouldn’t give away what songs she was thinking of singing this year. Asked if she would sing “Does He Love You” with Davis, Susie said, “Oh, heck no. Are you kidding me? She could sing it, but I don’t think I’d be able to sing it. That’s a real rangy song, but ... it would knock my socks off if she thought that I could, so we’ll see.”

Even if they don’t perform that song together, Susie said she hoped she and Davis and their respective husbands, Mark Eaton and Lang Scott, would be able to share the stage to do something together.

With the pandemic affecting everything this year, including people’s wallets and employment, Susie said the concert for Toys For Tots becomes even more important.

“It’s very important because I think this year is going to be harder for people than ever to buy toys for these youngsters,” Susie said. “I was thinking about this the other day. It’s not necessarily the gift. It’s the thought behind it. It’s the thought that people had this concert. That Linda Davis and Susie McEntire and their husbands flew in to have it and help raise these kind of gifts. And it’s the fact that Mike Loher’s committee works so hard on the stage and they make room for us to be able to have a meet-and-greet and the school allows us to come in and have this concert. It’s all the preparation that goes behind it. It’s not just the gift, it’s the thought behind the gift. It’s the preparation, the care and everything like that. If we all did this individually, there wouldn’t even be a Toys For Tots. If we looked around our community and said, ‘Who in our community needs help?’ We wouldn’t have this need. But we don’t. So, I just appreciated Mike and all of his committee and all the people who are working so hard to make this happen and let people know that there’s people out there who care.”

Susie and Mark will be back at Leesburg United Methodist Church for the 9 a.m. service Dec. 13. She said she didn’t know if Mark would be able to speak again this year, but they enjoyed last year’s service “so much.”

Conversation With Linda

Wednesday in Nashville was a little gray, but Davis said the leaves on the trees were still pretty.

“Normally, most of them would have already fallen off, but they’re sticking on pretty tight, so (I’m) enjoying the view,” she said.

Before Davis and Reba had a hit with “Does He Love You,” Davis said she had been working with her for a bit.

“I had been doing demos in Nashville, and many of those demos Reba had heard, and it was sort of like we knew each other through mutual friends. And as far as the whole (McEntire) family, I did not know anyone until after Reba and I met and we started working together. She and her husband at the time were managing me, and that’s when, if you’re part of the Reba working/music family, you end up meeting all the sisters and mommies and daddies and nieces and nephews, and then it becomes a big family,” Davis said.

One thing Davis said she and Susie have in common is that they both come from musical families, as well as their spouses and their children.

“I’m very proud of my daughter, Hillary, and all that she’s accomplished. We have a second daughter, Rylee, she’s 20, and she’s also very talented. It makes getting together and having family time even more fun because a lot of times music is involved. That’s where we go to celebrate, that’s where we go to grieve. Music is a big, big part of our family,” Davis said.

She said from her and her husband Lang’s standpoint, “When we noticed Hillary’s little voice being pure and on pitch and in good rhythm and timing, it was like, ‘OK, she’s definitely one of ours,’ and now it’s a matter of, does she like the same kind of music we enjoy? She seemed to just gravitate toward all the things we like.”

Hillary would take a song and sing the lead, while Davis would take a part and Lang would take the third. Hillary stuck to her part and they’d have a three-part harmony before Hillary was even 6.

“It was fun. It was a lot of our pastime for our little family. And then when Rylee came along – Rylee is 14 years younger than her big sister, so it’s like having two only children – she found her voice and the rest is history. And she loves music as much as we all do. We all enjoy it. And now Hillary’s got three children. Our grandchildren,” Davis said.

She said the oldest grandchild seems to have a beautiful voice with great pitch and great timing.

“Here we go! The beat goes on!” Davis said.

Davis, Lang and their two daughters recorded the album “Love Remains” together, which Ricky Skaggs produced. “We’re very proud of that. If I never made another record, that would be the way I would love ending it. Because I’m so happy with that. It was my whole family and we were singing songs to lift the name of Jesus. So that combination is my heart.”

During her career, Davis won Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Christian Music song for “Thy Will” from “Love Remains;” Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for “Love Remains;” and Best Country Vocal Collaboration for “Does He Love You” with Reba. “Does He Love You” also won a CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year and a TNN Music City News Award for Vocal Collaboration of the Year. She was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

Her albums include Best of Linda Davis, Young at Heart, I Have Arrived, Linda Davis Family Christmas, I’m Yours, Some Things Are Meant To Be, Shoot for the Moon, Linda Davis and In A Different Light.

Davis has appeared on everything from “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Show with David Letterman” to “Diagnosis Murder” and “Phil Donahue.” She’d had national jingles for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dr. Pepper and Mug Root Beer, and toured with Garth Brooks, Reba, Kenny Rogers and George Strait.

The Warsaw concert will be one of the few Davis has been able to do this year because of COVID.

“It’s so funny because Hillary, at the level they are, Lady A, they have just been shut down. The shows we had on books were all cancelled except for just a handful after March. Our daughter Rylee is the youngest, she has a job at Tractor Supply. We laugh because she’s the only one that’s employed,” Davis said, laughing. “So it’s kind of like, you’ve got another red vest? Momma might have to go put her application in.”

She said you’ve just got to keep going and not stop.

“I know that music heals. Music has a way of lifting the spirit of an individual, a group, a nation. And if the lyrics have something to say, whether it tells a story, whether it makes you laugh, no matter what, if it’s a good song and it’s delivered well, that can just really lift you out of a rut, and that’s what I know Dec. 12 Susie is going to do and what we’re going to do.”