This photo provided by KFC shows singer Reba McEntire as KFC's Colonel Sanders. A rotating cast of famous names have portrayed the Colonel since 2015, but McEntire is the first female celebrity to do it, and the first musician. Credit: Courtesy of KFC via AP

The new colonel is a woman.

KFC, the fried-chicken chain run by Yum Brands Inc., has picked country singer Reba McEntire to appear as Colonel Sanders in its latest marketing campaign — the first time a woman is portraying the mascot, who honors restaurant founder Harland Sanders.

The colonel was absent from the chain’s marketing for decades before being revived in 2015. Since the comeback, KFC has tapped various male actors, including Ray Liotta and Rob Lowe, for the role. Now, with a debate about gender diversity touching industries from Wall Street to Hollywood, Yum has shifted course.

McEntire, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, will appear in ads touting KFC’s new smoky mountain barbecue chicken.

The company said it picked McEntire because she “embodies the brand.”

“We’ve been publicly talking for a while about the fact that anyone who embodies the spirit of the colonel is qualified to play this role,” said Andrea Zahumensky, the chain’s chief marketing officer. “Her Southern roots are a perfect fit.”