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Barbara
Mandrell

Few entertainers have been as gifted or as hardworking as Barbara Mandrell: a talented singer, adept multi-instrumentalist, dynamic stage performer, accomplished dancer, and successful actor. A seasoned professional by age fourteen, she was a hit recording artist at twenty-one and went on to star on network television and publish a best-selling autobiography.

  • Inducted
    2009
  • Born
    December 25, 1948
  • Birthplace
    Houston, Texas

A Musician at an Early Age 

Barbara Ann Mandrell was born on Christmas Day in 1948, in Houston, Texas. She is the eldest child of country guitarist Irby Mandrell and his wife, Mary, who taught Barbara to play accordion and read music by the time she entered first grade. Soon the Mandrells moved to southern California, and by age ten, Barbara was taking steel guitar lessons while learning saxophone in her school band. 

Country performer Joe Maphis spotted Mandrell at a music trade convention in 1960 and recruited the young steel player for his Las Vegas act. Back home, Mandrell performed on the Los Angeles television show Town Hall Party with its large cast of top country talent. Additional Vegas work led to a national tour with an all-star package show headlined by Johnny Cash and, later, to sessions for Mosrite Records, a small label based in Bakersfield, California. 

At fourteen, Mandrell joined her parents in the Mandrell Family Band and began playing military bases in the U. S. and Asia. She fell in love with the band’s first drummer, Ken Dudney, who eventually left to become a Navy pilot. The couple married in 1967, and Mandrell retired from music—but not for long. When Dudney shipped out, Mandrell visited her family, who had relocated to Tennessee. While enjoying a Porter Wagoner Show taping prior to the Grand Ole Opry, she whispered to her father, “Daddy, I can do that. I want to get back in music if you’ll manage me.” He assured her, “I’d bet my last penny on you.” 

Songs

Standing Room Only
Barbara Mandrell

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I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool
Barbara Mandrell

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Years
Barbara Mandrell

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A Musician at an Early Age 

Barbara Ann Mandrell was born on Christmas Day in 1948, in Houston, Texas. She is the eldest child of country guitarist Irby Mandrell and his wife, Mary, who taught Barbara to play accordion and read music by the time she entered first grade. Soon the Mandrells moved to southern California, and by age ten, Barbara was taking steel guitar lessons while learning saxophone in her school band. 

Country performer Joe Maphis spotted Mandrell at a music trade convention in 1960 and recruited the young steel player for his Las Vegas act. Back home, Mandrell performed on the Los Angeles television show Town Hall Party with its large cast of top country talent. Additional Vegas work led to a national tour with an all-star package show headlined by Johnny Cash and, later, to sessions for Mosrite Records, a small label based in Bakersfield, California. 

At fourteen, Mandrell joined her parents in the Mandrell Family Band and began playing military bases in the U. S. and Asia. She fell in love with the band’s first drummer, Ken Dudney, who eventually left to become a Navy pilot. The couple married in 1967, and Mandrell retired from music—but not for long. When Dudney shipped out, Mandrell visited her family, who had relocated to Tennessee. While enjoying a Porter Wagoner Show taping prior to the Grand Ole Opry, she whispered to her father, “Daddy, I can do that. I want to get back in music if you’ll manage me.” He assured her, “I’d bet my last penny on you.” 

Amid a shower of industry accolades, the Country Music Association recognized Mandrell’s success by naming her their Female Vocalist of the Year in 1979 and 1981. In 1980 and 1981, she won the prestigious CMA Entertainer of the Year award, the first artist to do so in consecutive years. 

Success in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s 

Irby Mandrell’s confidence proved right on target. Before long, Barbara signed with Columbia Records and gained her first Billboard chart record in 1969: a cover of Otis Redding’s soul classic “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (to Stop Now).” “After Closing Time,” a duet with David Houston, rose to #6 in 1970, and in 1972, Mandrell notched her first Top Ten solo hit with “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home” and joined the Grand Ole Opry. The next year brought another Top Ten single, “The Midnight Oil,” a cheating song with sexually frank lyrics that were groundbreaking for a female artist. 

Moving to ABC/Dot (later ABC), Mandrell recorded other soulful performances, such as “Standing Room Only” (1975-‘76), “Married, But Not to Each Other” (1977), and “Woman to Woman” (1977-‘78), all Top Ten hits. Two #1 records followed: 1978’s “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” and 1979’s “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right).” 

Mandrell moved to MCA in 1979 and continued her string of Top Tens into the late 1980s. Among them were “Fooled by a Feeling,” “Years,” “Crackers,” “The Best of Strangers,” “’Till You’re Gone,” “One of a Kind Pair of Fools,” and “To Me,” the latter recorded with Lee Greenwood. George Jones was a guest vocalist on her chart-topping signature song, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” 

Amid a shower of industry accolades, the Country Music Association recognized Mandrell’s success by naming her their Female Vocalist of the Year in 1979 and 1981. In 1980 and 1981, she won the prestigious CMA Entertainer of the Year award, the first artist to do so in consecutive years. 

Small-Screen Stardom 

From 1980 to 1982, Mandrell joined her sisters Louise and Irlene in hosting NBC-TV’s weekly program Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. Offering music and comedy, this hour-long show reached millions of viewers; featured her talents as singer, multi-instrumentalist, and dancer; and showcased dozens of country artists. Each broadcast closed with a gospel number, and in 1982, Mandrell released the album He Set My Life to Music, which received a Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance. Teaming with gospel singer Bobby Jones on “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today,” Mandrell also won a Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group. 

Serious voice problems resulting from Mandrell’s taxing schedule forced her to end her TV series, but she bounced back in 1983 with The Lady Is a Champ, a Las Vegas show and HBO television special. A 1984 car crash left her with multiple injuries requiring a long recuperation, but recovery brought more hit records, tours, TV acting roles, and a best-selling autobiography, Get to the Heart: My Story (1990). 

In 1997, Mandrell announced her retirement. That October, her final concert was filmed at the Grand Ole Opry House for a concert special, Barbara Mandrell and the Do-Rites: The Last Dance, which aired on The Nashville Network. BNA Records honored her in 2006 with She Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool: A Tribute to Barbara Mandrell, an album featuring many top artists of the day, including Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire, and Brad Paisley. 

Mandrell received a star on Nashville’s Music City Walk of Fame in 2007, two years before her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. —Robert K. Oermann 

Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press 

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