Barbara Mandrell returns to the Opry for its 50th anniversary

Music Barbara Mandrell (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Music Barbara Mandrell (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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 home to her.

Mandrell, 73, made a rare public appearance Saturday night at the Opry to celebrate her 50th anniversary as an Opry member.

“Here we are back home,” Mandrell told The Associated Press in an interview backstage at the Opry House before the long-running radio and television show. “50 years. Not everyone gets that blessing.”

Born in Texas and raised in California, Mandrell was just 23 when she joined in July 1972. But she was already a seasoned entertainer by the time she came to Nashville, having spent her teenage years playing steel guitar and appearing regularly at the California -based country TV program “Town Hall Party”.

During her decades-long career, the actress, multi-instrumentalist and singer turned millions of fans on to country music in the ’70s and ’80s, not only through her hit 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 glamor and showmanship to the genre. Her performances were a showcase for her musicality, whether she was singing at the top of her lungs, playing pedal steel, banjo or saxophone.

“It’s called show business. You have 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 have to give them something to entertain them.”

Along with 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 mix of R&B, pop and country artists.

“So many people will say things like, ‘I never listened to country music, but now, boy, I watch every Saturday night and I love it,'” Mandrell said.

On this Saturday night, Mandrell was still a champion of country music. Before the show began, Mandrell watched Carrie Underwood from the sidestage 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 band members.

Underwood said Mandrell’s voice was always around growing up.

“She has been a great inspiration to me and so many others who stand on the shoulders of great female artists like her,” Underwood told the Opry audience.

During the Opry show, Mandrell enthusiastically applauded the female lineup, 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 because I am such a huge fan of these ladies,” Mandrell said.

From his seat in the middle of the crowd, Mandrell waved and kissed fans, who took pictures of the country star.

Mandrell hasn’t played music or sung — other than in church — since she retired in 1997. Her last concert ever was held at the Opry House and made into a TV special called, “Barbara Mandrell and the Do-Rites: The Last Dance. “

Dressed smartly in a pink pantsuit and surrounded by 50 vases of roses bought by her fans, Mandrell bid another farewell from the same Opry stage 25 years later.

“I picked my home to do my last show at, and it was this one,” Mandrell said. “God bless you!” she told fans before exiting the stage into the shadows.

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Follow Kristin M. Hall at https://twitter.com/kmhall

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