By the tender age of five, Barbara Mandrell was already on the way to becoming a country music sensation. Today, she is considered a pioneer of the industry and a music legend among fans everywhere.
Born to a musical family in Houston, Texas, Mandrell began playing the accordion and reading sheet music before she could read words. By age eleven, she was a prodigy on the steel guitar, which prompted her father to take her to a music trade show in Chicago. Her performance caught the attention of legendary country guitarists, Chet Atkins and "Uncle" Joe Maphis. It was her first foray into the music industry, and the beginning of a storied, successful, 38-year career.
After her landmark performance at a trade show, Maphis invited Mandrell to join his show at the Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas. It became one of the single greatest influences on her musicianship, and by the time she was a teenager, Mandrell was touring with The Johnny Cash Show, which included high-profile guests such as Patsy Cline, George Jones and June Carter. A short time later, Mandrell’s father, Irby Mandrell, formed the Mandrell Family Band, and the act embarked on a successful tour across Asia. The formation of the band also brought Mandrell together with her future husband Ken Dudney, after her dad hired him as the drummer. Mandrell married Dudney in 1967 and made the decision to step away from the music industry to focus on being a wife. She’d just returned from an exhausting tour in another country and had already been working for nearly a decade when she turned 19. Mandrell went to live with her parents the next year after Dudney, who was working as a Navy carrier pilot at the time, was deployed. She gradually began playing a few shows again here and there at the urging of friends in the industry. Mandrell had a come-to-Jesus moment while sitting in the balcony of the Ryman Auditorium with her father, watching another female performer on stage. She felt that she was not destined for a life of sitting in the audience. Mandrell’s passion was reignited and she made the decision to get back on stage and give it her all as a solo artist.
Mandrell’s career took off in Nashville, and she scored her first hit with a remake of Otis Redding’s classic “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” That single put her on the charts and set the stage for a succession of No.1 hits that skyrocketed her to the forefront of country music stardom with songs such as “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right” and “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” In 1980, the Country Music Association named Mandrell Entertainer of the Year. At the time, she was only the third woman to have ever won the title. She earned that accolade again in 1981, an unprecedented honor only recently replicated by Taylor Swift. An array of accolades from the Country Music Association, Academy of Country Music, Grammy Awards, American Music Awards and People’s Choice Awards followed, making her one of the most awarded country acts in history.
Mandrell and her sisters, Louise and Irlene, enjoyed a lauded television career that began in the 1980s with her NBC variety show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. The variety show drew nearly 40 million viewers weekly and introduced the world to country music. Mandrell has also starred in specials for HBO, CBS and TNN. She has hosted popular programs from The Tonight Show to the People's Choice Awards, and made guest appearances on a countless string of shows -- from Barbara Walters’ Specials and Larry King Live to HEE HAW. Her influence on popular media also includes a 1990 autobiography Get to the Heart: The Barbara Mandrell Story that appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List after only four days and remained there for six months. The autobiography was so popular that it was later turned into a CBS made-for-television movie.
In 1997, Mandrell officially retired with a final concert titled Barbara Mandrell and the Do-Rites: The Last Dance. It was filmed at the Grand Ole Opry for a highly-rated TNN concert special. Two years later, in 1999, Mandrell was inducted into the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The next year, the Academy of Country Music honored Mandrell with its most prestigious award, The Pioneer Award. In 2009, Mandrell received two accolades that would be among the proudest of her career, she became the only woman ever to be inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame inducted her with a ceremony that paid tribute to her incredible, inimitable career, unyielding faith and love of our country. In 2014, Mandrell was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame, and was recognized for her prowess in playing multiple instruments, particularly the steel guitar.
In spite of the demands of show business, Mandrell gracefully embraces success in her public life while staying focused on her private life. She has remained true to her love of God, family and country and is the embodiment of a true entertainer. Mother of three, grandmother and wife, Mandrell’s family takes center stage, even as she remains an icon of the industry. In her spare time, Mandrell can be found gardening, visiting friends, taking care of her home and family and enjoying a slower pace of life since retirement. She often says, “I have so much to do, I don’t know when I found time to work.”