Barbara Mandrell was born on Christmas Day, 1948 to Mary Ellen (née McGill; August 4, 1931) and Irby Matthew Mandrell (October 11, 1924 - March 5, 2009) in Houston, Texas. Her mother was a homemaker and musician hailing from a large family in rural Wayne County, Illinois. Her father was a World War II naval veteran as well as a Texas police officer from Garland County, Arkansas. Irby Mandrell was an accomplished musician and entrepreneur as well. He used his impeccable social skills and knowledge of the music industry to manage all three of his daughters' careers for over 3 decades.
Mandrell was an only child until July 13, 1954, when her sister Thelma Louise Mandrell was born. Baby sister Ellen Irlene Mandrell arrived 18 months after Louise on January 29, 1956.
The eldest daughter of the musical family, Barbara Mandrell was already reading music and playing accordion when her sisters were infants. Six years later, she had become so adept at playing steel guitar that her father took her to a music trade convention in Chicago. While there, her talents caught the attention of RCA Records producer and session musician Chet Atkins and popular musician and bandleader Joe Maphis. Soon after, she became a featured performer in Maphis' Las Vegas nightclub show, followed by tours with Red Foley, Tex Ritter, and Johnny Cash. Her network TV debut came on the NBC-TV series Five Star Jubilee in 1961.
While growing up, Mandrell learned to play the pedal steel and lap steel guitars and many other instruments, including the accordion, saxophone, and banjo. She played steel guitar for Patsy Cline, who once wrote to a friend that Mandrell was, "a 13-year-old blonde doll who plays the steel guitar out of this world! What a show woman!" Mandrell toured at age 13 with Cline, Johnny Cash, and George Jones. She also played guitar for Joe Maphis in Las Vegas and on the Town Hall Party show in Los Angeles. A couple of years later, Mandrell and her sisters Louise and Irlene, as well as her parents, founded the Mandrell Family Band. They toured across the United States and Asia. Their drummer, Ken Dudney, became Mandrell's husband shortly after graduating from Oceanside High School.
(Photo: Barbara with her husband Ken Dudney)
Dudney received a commission in the Navy, serving as a pilot, and was sent overseas. Mandrell decided that she would become a country singer and moved to Nashville. Her father was then her manager, and with his help, she signed with Columbia Records in 1969. Over the next few years, Mandrell had a few minor hits. Her producer at the time was Billy Sherrill, known for producing other well-known singers in country music such as Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, and Tanya Tucker.
(Photo: Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters)
Country music career
1969-1974: Country beginnings
Within 48 hours of a nightclub appearance near the Grand Ole Opry, she received offers for recording contracts from six record companies. After signing with Columbia in 1969, she notched her first chart hit, a remake of the Otis Redding classic "I've Been Loving You Too Long". In 1970, Mandrell scored the first of many Top 40 hits with "Playin' Around With Love". In the same year, she began performing with singer David Houston, and their partnership also generated considerable chart success. Mandrell's first releases earned respect from her country peers, but her first big breakthrough with fans came in 1973 with the single "The Midnight Oil", it was the first song that was sung from the perspective of the woman who is doing the cheating, which at the time was unheard of.
While with Columbia Records, Mandrell worked with legendary country producer Billy Sherrill. Under Sherrill's direction, Mandrell recorded country-soul material, which never gained her widespread success. Her early hits included 1970s "After Closing Time" (a duet with David Houston) and 1971's "Tonight My Baby's Comin' Home," "Treat Him Right," and her version of Joe Tex's "Show Me." Her records did not generate sales on the Columbia label. Sherrill later said in the book, How Nashville Became Music City, that he was asked every year by the other Columbia executives, why he was keeping Mandrell, because she wasn't selling records. Sherrill kept Mandrell with the label until 1975.
In 1975, Mandrell jumped to the ABC/Dot label, and under the guidance of producer Tom Collins reached the Top Five for the first time with the single "Standing Room Only". After a series of successive hits, she scored her first No. 1 with 1978's "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed", immediately followed by another chart-topper, "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right" in early 1979. "If Loving You Is Wrong" was also a major crossover smash, becoming Mandrell's only single to reach the Top 40 on the pop chart, peaking at No. 31. The song also peaked in the Top 10 on Adult Contemporary radio stations.
During the 1980s Mandrell had more hits, including "Crackers" and "Wish You Were Here". All of these singles and more reached the country Top 10 and some also hit No. 1, including "Years". Three more singles hit No. 1 - "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool", "'Till You're Gone", and "One of a Kind, Pair of Fools" - between 1981 and 1983, a period during which Mandrell also received many industry awards and accolades. "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" is one of Mandrell's best-known songs. The best-known version is the live version featuring George Jones. In 1983, she won a Grammy award for "Best Inspirational Performance" for the song, "He Set My Life to Music".
In 1980 Mandrell became the third woman to win the "Entertainer of the Year" award from the Country Music Association. She repeated history in 1981 by winning the award for the second time. This was unprecedented, as in prior to her, it was presumed, that it only went to an artist once - but she nabbed it a second year in a row with her non-stop touring, hit records, and popular TV show. This began the huge array of awards and she would win: several CMA, ACM, and MCN awards, seven American Music Awards, and nine People's Choice, making her one of the most awarded country acts in history.
A collection of duets with Lee Greenwood, "Meant for Each Other", followed in 1984. From this album, Greenwood and Mandrell had two hits on the country chart spanning 1984 and 1985, including the Top 5 hit, "To Me", and the Top 20 "It Should Have Been Love by Now".
Also in 1984, she opened a fan-based attraction across from the old location of the Country Music Hall of Fame in the heart of Music Row in Nashville called Barbara Mandrell Country, a museum about her life and career.
1984: Car crash
While Mandrell was at the peak of her popularity, she had a major setback when she was involved in a serious automobile crash on September 11, 1984. According to Toni Reinhold in Redbook magazine, the singer "sustained multiple fractures in her right leg, including a broken thigh bone, knee and ankle. She also suffered lacerations and abrasions and a severe concussion that caused temporary memory loss, confusion, and speech difficulties." After a year-and-a-half of rehabilitation, she recovered and returned to recording and performing. Mandrell told interviewers that the crash made her reassess her priorities; thus she retired in November 1997, thirteen years after the crash, and now spends more time with her family. Mandrell is now a confirmed seat belt advocate, especially because prior to the crash, neither she nor her two children Matthew and Jaime (also involved in the crash) were normally seat belt wearers. Mandrell saw a station wagon in front of her with the tailgate down and children not being restrained in the back, and felt the need to tell her children to buckle up just before the crash.
During the recuperation period, Mandrell was unable to work and therefore needed to collect on her insurance to pay for medical bills and to keep her band paid. On the “Ralph Emery on the Record” show, Mandrell explained that the problem was that, under Tennessee law, she had to go through the formality of filing a lawsuit against survivors of the dead driver who had caused the accident, 19-year-old college student Mark White, to collect from her own insurance company.
She says she instructed her attorneys to call White’s family and tell them she wanted no money from them and was only doing what she had to do to get her own insurance company to pay for her medical costs, but most fans never knew about that or about Tennessee's insurance law. They saw only the headlines about the lawsuit against the family who had lost a son. Before the case went to trial, she adds, her insurance company filed for bankruptcy. Her record and ticket sales fell off “in a big way,” Mandrell says.
“I’m not blaming the public,” she tells Emery, adding that given the information most of them got through the media, “I would have felt the way they felt.”
Television and acting
In 1980, the TV program Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters premiered on NBC. In addition to hosts Barbara, Louise, and Irlene, the show featured musical guests and comedy sketches. Each broadcast also closed with a gospel song, which led to Mandrell recording her own inspirational album, "He Set My Life to Music" (1982). As a result of her busy schedule, she began suffering from vocal strain, and on doctor's orders pulled the plug on the television program in 1982. (Variety shows were also falling out of favor at the time; the series would be NBC's last variety series to date.) She received one award (People's Choice) and two nominations (Golden Globe and TV Land Award) for her work on the show. In 1983, she premiered The Lady Is a Champ, a Las Vegas stage show.
Mandrell had the starring role in Burning Rage alongside Tom Wopat in 1984 just prior to her car accident. Later, she also had guest star roles on hit shows, including: Touched By An Angel; Empty Nest; Diagnosis: Murder; Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; The Commish; Baywatch; Walker, Texas Ranger; and Rockford Files. She also had a recurring role in the late 1990s on Aaron Spelling's daytime drama, Sunset Beach. Spelling was a big fan of hers and wanted to incorporate her into one of his shows.
Many of these performances can be seen on late-night television or on the DVD box sets of the respective shows. In 1990, she wrote an autobiography called Get to the Heart: My Story, which was a New York Times Bestseller for more than three months, and in 1997 became a highly rated CBS TV Movie of the Week starring Maureen McCormick. Mandrell promoted her autobiography on shows such as Sally Jessy Raphaël show, Geraldo, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, with whom she shared the "Woman of the World" honor in 1992. In primetime, she appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Ralph Emery's Nashville Now, and she even "rapped" during one of her three Arsenio visits.
(Photo: Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters with Kenny Rogers' TV-Show in 1981)
Barbara Mandrell married Ken Dudney on May 28, 1967. Dudney had been the drummer in the Mandrell Family Band. Mandrell and Dudney have three children, Kenneth Matthew Dudney (b. 1970), Jaime Nicole Dudney (b. 1976), and Nathaniel Mandrell Dudney (b. 1985).
Mandrell's oldest son Kenneth "Matthew" Dudney is a gourmet chef, who has worked in the Nashville area for many years. After several bouts with alcoholism, Matthew overcame the problem and married Christian recording artist Christy Sutherland. He now travels with her as her personal manager. Mandrell's daughter, Jaime, was Miss Tennessee Teen USA 1993 and placed in the semi-finals at Miss Teen USA 1993. Jaime was Miss Golden Globe in 1996, following a tradition, where one son and one daughter of famous parents present the Golden statues. Following this, Jaime played her aunt, Irlene Mandrell, in Get to the Heart (The Barbara Mandrell Story), and was seen on the long-running CBS daytime drama, As the World Turns, from June 1998–January 2000. On December 23, 2012, Jamie married Whit Gilbert. Mandrell's youngest son Nathan, married Hannah Menefee on March 8, 2012. Both met while attending the University of Mississippi. Nathan is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Dynamic Research Technologies. Hannah received her medical degree from the University of Tennessee in 2014 and accepted an internship for OB/GYN at Vanderbilt University.
Her former mansion, located in Whites Creek, Tennessee, near Nashville, has been turned into a tourist attraction with a restaurant, a hotel, an outdoors music venue and an indoors shooting range. Her daughter, Jaime, is the human resources manager of the Mansion.
«The Mandrell Family»
Barbara with her father Irby Matthew Mandrell and son Matthew
Barbara with her husband Ken Dudney