Born December 25, 1948, in Houston, Texas; daughter of Irby (a music shop owner, entertainer, and talent manager) and Mary (a music teacher; maiden name, McGill) Mandrell; married, husband's name Ken Dudney; children: Matthew, Jaime (daughter), Nathaniel. Religion: Christian. Addresses: Home-- Whites Creek, Tenn. Other-- P.O. Box 332, Hendersonville, Tenn. 37075.

Barbara Mandrell is one of the brightest stars of contemporary country music. She has scored hits with songs such as "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed," "I Don't Want to Be Right," and "Fooled by a Feeling," and has garnered numerous awards, including the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year in 1980 and the People's Choice Award for Favorite All-Around Female Entertainer for six consecutive years beginning in 1982. Mandrell also hosted her own variety show with her sisters, Louise and Irlene, "Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters," from 1980 to 1982.

Mandrell was born on Christmas Day, 1948, in Houston, Texas. Her father, Irby Mandrell, owned a music shop, and her mother, the former Mary McGill, was a music teacher, so it was natural that Barbara was interested in music from her early childhood. The first instrument she learned to play was the accordion, and she performed a solo at the family's church when she was only five. When she was a little older she took pedal steel guitar lessons from family friend Norman Hamlet--famed in country circles for his ability with the instrument. By the time Mandrell was eleven years old, she was paid to demonstrate steel guitars at a music trade show in Chicago that she attended with her father. When they returned to Oceanside, California, where they had moved from Houston, country performer Joe Maphis--who had heard Mandrell's work in Chicago--got her a job as a regular on a local country variety show, "Town Hall Party." The following year, she performed on the nationwide ABC television show "Five Star Jubilee." And the year after that, Mandrell took part in a three-week tour of the Southwest with country greats such as Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and George Jones. Meanwhile, she was adding to her repertoire of instruments--they now include saxophone, banjo, guitar, dobro, mandolin, and bass in addition to the accordion and the pedal steel guitar.

But country music was not as popular around the year 1960 as it was to become in later decades, and Mandrell suffered socially for her childhood stardom in the field. She told Country Music reporter Michael Bane that after "doing a four-hour live television show...I would go back to school on Monday and the kids would yell 'Yee-haw!' or 'Hillbilly!'--poking fun at me. It continued through high school." During some of these high-school years she managed to find the time to travel with her father's band, entertaining U.S. servicemen stationed in the Pacific and the Far East.

Mandrell intended to curtail her performing when she married Ken Dudney in 1967, but this was not to be. Fearing loneliness when Dudney was shipped overseas for Air Force duty, she decided to live with her parents for the duration of his assignment--and her father had taken a job in Nashville. When she accompanied him to a Grand Ole Opry show, Mandrell was filled with determination to become a major country star. She landed a spot with a Nashville band called the Curly Chalker Trio; she of course played steel guitar, but she also sang, and when producer Billy Sherril of Columbia Records sat in on their show, he signed Mandrell to a recording contract in 1969.

Mandrell's first releases earned respect from her country peers, but her first big breakthrough with the fans came in 1973 with the single "Midnight Angel." As she recalled for Bane, the cheating song struck a chord with her female audiences: "To my knowledge, that was the first time a girl had said, 'Say, I'll cheat.' It had always been him who was slipping around.... The timing was right on." Mandrell followed with other hits throughout the 1970s, including "Standing Room Only," "That's What Friends Are For," and "Love Is Thin Ice." She had big smashes with "Married, But Not to Each Other" in 1977 and "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed" in 1979. The latter was voted single of the year by the American Music Awards, but that wasn't enough for Mandrell; she quickly scored two more hits with "I Don't Want to Be Right" and "Fooled by a Feeling."

During the 1980s Mandrell had more hits, including "Crackers" and "Wish You Were Here," but perhaps more importantly, in terms of gaining exposure, she started off the decade by starring in her own television variety show, supported on screen by her two sisters, Louise and Irlene, who were also talented on a wide variety of instruments. The show, "Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters," fared extremely well for a variety program, and lasted two seasons. Possibly the increased recognition Mandrell received from being seen by millions of television viewers helped her garner six consecutive People's Choice Awards for Favorite All-Around Female Entertainer during the span from 1982 to 1987.

While Mandrell was at the peak of her popularity, she had a major setback when she was involved in a serious automobile accident in 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." Though after a year and a half of rehabilitation she recovered and returned to recording and performing, Mandrell has told interviewers that the accident made her reassess her priorities; thus she spends more time with her family and limits the number of concerts and recording dates. She continues to be active, however, and has been at work on an autobiography. In 1990, she released the album Morning Sun, which features a duet performance of "Crazy Arms" with Ray Price and a remake of that singer's "You Wouldn't Know Love if It Looked You in the Eye."

by Elizabeth Thomas

Barbara Mandrell's Career

Demonstrated steel guitar at music trade shows at age eleven; performed on country variety shows "Town Hall Party" and "Five Star Jubilee," c. 1960; toured with country stars Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and George Jones, c. 1962; entertained U.S. Armed Forces with father's band in the Pacific and Far East, c. 1965; played and sang with the Curly Chalker Trio, c. 1969; recording artist and concert performer, 1969--. Had television variety show with sisters, Louise and Irlene, "Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters," on NBC, 1980-82.

Barbara Mandrell's Awards

Numerous awards, including six consecutive People's Choice Awards for Favorite All-Around Female Entertainer, 1982-87; Academy of Country Music's Entertainer of the Year, 1981; Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year, 1980; Country Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year and Academy of Country Music's Female Vocalist of the Year, 1979; and "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed" named Single of the Year by the American Music Awards, 1979.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 13 years ago

Barbara can do it all and most of all, she has CLASS.

over 15 years ago

When I was young my bedroom was a shrine to Barbara Mandrell. She is the best country music singer of all time. I believe what you see is what you get with her. Genuine, honest, kind, and lovely. And I too was country when country wasn't cool.

over 15 years ago

I think she's the best country music entertainer ever. I miss seeing her and her sister on tv.