In honor of her 50th anniversary as an Opry member, Mandrell, 73, made a rare public appearance on Saturday night at the Opry.
In a backstage interview at the Opry House prior to the venerable radio and television program, Mandrell said, “Here we are at home again.” “50 years. That blessing is not given to everyone.
Born in Texas and raised in California, Mandrell was just 23 when she became a member in July of 1972. But she was already a seasoned entertainer by the time she came to Nashville, after her teenage years were spent playing steel guitar and appearing regularly on the California-based country TV show “Town Hall Party.”
Over her decades-long career, the actor, multi-instrumentalist and singer turned millions of fans onto country music in the ‘70s and ’80s, not only through her popular TV show “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters,” but also through hits like “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.”
She became the first country artist to earn back-to-back entertainer of the year awards from the Country Music Association, crossing over with R&B covers and bringing glamour and showmanship to the genre. Her performances were a showcase of her musicality, whether she was singing to the top of the rafters, playing pedal steel, the banjo or the saxophone.
“It’s called show business. You need to show them something,” Mandrell said. “Otherwise, they could sit at home and listen to your recordings or listen to you on the radio. You’ve got to give them something that entertains them.”
With her sisters Louise and Irlene, Mandrell used the power of television to bring new ears to country music, as well as gospel music. Her musical guests were a mixture of R&B, pop and country artists.
“So many would say things like, ‘I never listened to country music, but now, boy, I’m watching every Saturday night and I love it,’” Mandrell said.
This Saturday night, Mandrell was still a champion of country music. Before the show began, Mandrell watched Carrie Underwood from side stage as Underwood did her soundcheck of “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” stopping to give her a hug and greeting Underwood’s band members.