NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Country Music Hall of Famer and Grammy winner Barbara Mandrell retired from music more than two decades ago, but the Grand Ole Opry still feels like her home.
Mandrell, 73, made a rare public appearance Saturday night at the Opry to celebrate her 50th anniversary of being an Opry member.
“Here we are again at home,” Mandrell told The Associated Press in an interview backstage at the Opry House for the long-running radio and TV show. “50 years. Not everyone gets that blessing.”
Born in Texas and raised in California, Mandrell was only 23 when she joined in July 1972. But she was already a seasoned entertainer by the time she came to Nashville, having spent her teens playing steel guitar and performing regularly. on the California-based TV show “Town Hall Party.”
Throughout her decades-long career, the actor, multi-instrumentalist, and singer turned country music into millions of fans in the 1970s and ’80s, not only through her hit TV show “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters,” but also through hits such as ” Sleeping 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 win back-to-back Entertainer of the Year awards from the Country Music Association, transitioning with R&B covers and bringing glamor and showmanship to the genre. Her performances were a showcase of her musicality, whether she sang to the top of the rafters, played the pedal steel, the banjo or the saxophone.
“It’s called show business. You have to show them something,” Mandrell said. “Otherwise they can sit at home and listen to your recordings or listen to you on the radio. You have 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 and gospel music. Her musical guests were a mishmash of R&B, pop and country artists.
“So many would say things like, ‘I’ve never listened to country music, but now, boy, I watch it every Saturday night and I love it,'” Mandrell said.
This Saturday night, Mandrell was still a champion of country music. Before the show started, Mandrell watched Carrie Underwood from the side stage as Underwood did her sound check of “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” stopping to give her a hug and greet Underwood’s bandmates.
Underwood said growing up, Mandrell’s voice was always nearby.
“She is such an inspiration to me and so many others who stand on the shoulders of amazing female artists like her,” Underwood told Opry’s audience.
On the Opry show, Mandrell enthusiastically applauded the lineup of all the female artists, including CeCe Winans, Linda Davis, and Suzy Bogguss, as they performed her hits.
“I already feel on top of the world. I feel the deepest gratitude and excitement for being such a big fan of these ladies,” said Mandrell.
From her seat in the middle of the crowd, Mandrell waved and kissed her fans, who snapped photos of the country star.
Mandrell hasn’t played or sang music – except at church – since she retired in 1997. Her last ever concert was held at the Opry House and made a TV special called ‘Barbara Mandrell and the Do-Rites: The Last dance. ”
Dressed smartly in a bright pink pantsuit and surrounded by 50 vases of roses bought by her fans, Mandrell said goodbye to the same Opry stage again 25 years later.
“I chose my house to do my last gig and it was this one,” Mandrell said. “God bless you!” she told fans before walking off stage into the shadows.
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