Barbara Mandrell is an American country music singer and actress considered one of the most successful country musicians in the 1970s and 1980s. She delivered a string of top ten hits during those two glorious decades and won a series of awards including Country Music Association's ‘Entertainer of the Year’ award twice and ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’ twice. Her biggest hits include ‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right’, ‘Years’, ‘I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool’, ‘Till You're Gone’, and ‘One of a Kind Pair of Fools’. The daughter of musicians, she ventured into the music industry quite early on. Her father, who encouraged her to follow her passion, managed her career for several years. Her talent was not only limited to singing as she was also an occasional actress who delivered several stellar performances on television films and shows. After retiring from her musical career in the late 1990s, she concentrated only on her acting career and appeared in some popular shows like ‘Sunset Beach’ and ‘Touched by an Angel’ before completely retiring from the entertainment industry.
Childhood & Early Life
Barbara Ann Mandrell was born in Houston, Texas, on December 25, 1948 to Mary Ellen, a musician, and Irby Matthew Mandrell, a World War II naval veteran who later served as a Texas police officer. Her father, who was also an accomplished musician, eventually became her manager.
Barbara has two younger sisters, Thelma Louise Mandrell and Ellen Irlene Mandrell; both of them are also accomplished country music singers. She started to learn music at a very early age and even taught herself to play a steel guitar.
She also learned to play other musical instruments, such as accordion, saxophone, and banjo. She toured with Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and George Jones at the age of thirteen.
After her two sisters also displayed interest in music, her family set up a band of their own. Later on, Ken Dudney joined as their drummer; Barbara would eventually marry him.
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Career in Music
A few years after forming the ‘Mandrell Family Band’, Dudney was called to join the Navy. Around this time, Barbara Mandrell decided to become a country singer and she moved to Nashville to pursue her career. Her father then began to manage her work. She started with some minor hits under producer Billy Sherrill, who had previously managed top artists like Charlie Rich, Tammy Wynette, and Tanya Tucker.
In 1969, she received six offers from different recording companies and signed with Columbia that year. Her first recording was a cover of Otis Redding’s classic ‘I've Been Loving You Too Long’ which became an instant hit. A year later, she delivered a top 40 hit with ‘Playin' Around With Love’ and teamed up with singer David Houston to deliver several more hit songs.
Her time with Columbia Records was not very fruitful and Billy Sherrill was questioned several times about why he was still working with Barbara despite her failure to capture widespread fame. He finally ended the contract with her in 1975.
After leaving Columbia Records, Barbara Mandrell signed with ABC/Dot and started working with producer Tom Collins. This collaboration marked the beginning of her success. She reached the top 5 with her single ‘Standing Room Only’ and then delivered her chart-topping single ‘Sleeping Single in a Double Bed’ in 1978. This was soon followed by the single ‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right,’ that also topped the chart.
During the early 1980s, she had the best time of her career, delivering a series of popular hits starting with ‘Crackers’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ which reached the country top 10.
She also delivered some super hit singles like ‘Years’, ‘I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool’, ‘Till You're Gone’, and ‘One of a Kind, Pair of Fools’, all during the early 1980s and quickly made her mark in the industry. Among these top hits, the single ‘I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool,’ which she performed alongside George Jones, became a public favorite immediately.
In 1984, she formed a very successful partnership with Lee Greenwood and a series of their popular duets from the album ‘Meant for Each Other’ went on to top the country charts.
Barbara Mandrell’s rising popularity during the late 1970s and early 1980s led her to venture into television as well. The TV program ‘Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters’ premiered on NBC in 1980.
She later featured on several popular TV shows including ‘Empty Nest’, ‘Diagnosis: Murder’, ‘Dr. Quinn’, ‘Medicine Woman’, ‘Touched By An Angel’, ‘The Commish’, and ‘Baywatch’.
After retiring from the recording industry in 1997, she concentrated only on her acting career for two more years and appeared in shows and TV movies like ‘Love Boat: The Next Wave’, ‘The Wrong Girl’, ‘Stolen from the Heart’ and ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’.
The song ‘I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool’ is considered Barbara Mandrell’s signature song. It peaked at the no. 1 position on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
In 1984, she teamed up with Bobby Jones and delivered one of her best duets, ‘I'm So Glad We're Standing Here Today’. This gospel duet won them a Grammy Award in the category ‘Best Soul Gospel Duo Performance’. This song became one of the all-time favorite gospel songs and took her already flourishing career to even greater heights.
Awards & Achievements
Barbara Mandrell is one of the most decorated artists in the history of American country music. She won the Academy of Country Music Awards in the years 1971, 1978, 1980, 1981, 2001, and 2005 under various categories.
She won the Grammy Award twice, for Best Inspirational Performance – "He Set My Life to Music" in 1983 and Best Soul Gospel Duo Performance – "I'm So Glad We're Standing Here Today" (with Bobby Jones) in 1984.
Mandrell was inducted into the Country-Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2009, the Artists Music Guild in 2012, and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2014.
Barbara Mandrell married drummer Ken Dudney on May 28, 1967 and had three children, Kenneth Matthew Dudney, Jaime Nicole Dudney, and Nathaniel Mandrell Dudney.
During the golden period of her career, Barbara and her two kids Matthew and Jaime were involved in a horrific car accident. Since they were not wearing seatbelts, all the three of them suffered from severe injuries. She also suffered a concussion, temporary memory loss, and speech difficulties in addition to fractures. Since then, she has been an advocate for wearing seatbelts.