It’s a shame that Barabara Mandrell, a two-time winner of the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award, is often overlooked when discussing the genre’s most influential female artists. She was one of the biggest stars in country music during the ’70s and ’80s. For this reason, many people were taken aback when she decided to leave the music industry. Follow along as we explain the real story behind Barbara’s permanent musical hiatus.
Her early success, career slow–down and retirement
Barbara Mandrell, the oldest daughter of the musical family, was born on Christmas Day, 1948. Her parents, Irby and Mary Ellen, were both musicians in their day. Mandrell began her career as a singer by recording cover versions of R&B and soul songs. At the age of 21, Mandrell became a recording artist for Sherill’s brand, Columbia Records, in 1969. That same year, her debut single for Columbia, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” peaked at number one on Billboard’s country singles list in the United States. The song had been reworked from the Otis Redding original. Then came “Playin’ Around with Love,” which was written by Billy Sherrill. After debuting at number 18, the song became her first single to break into the top 20 on the Billboard country chart. Mandrell’s first album for Columbia was released in 1971, and it was titled “Treat Him Right”. The album featured her top-charting singles from 1969–1971, as well as her renditions of songs by Ivory Joe Hunter, Joe South, and others. After a successful start to her career, the Academy of Country Music recognized Mandrell as the year’s Top New Female Vocalist. She departed Columbia’s roster in 1975 and began recording with ABC-Dot, which was ultimately acquired by MCA Records. By teaming up with Tom Collins, a pop producer, Mandrell was able to widen her appeal among music fans. Her first top-five country single on the Billboard charts was 1975’s “Standing Room,” which was released on ABC-Dot. Afterwards, “That’s What Friends Are For” and “Midnight Angel” both entered the top 20. Collins’s incorporation of R&B within her repertoire also contributed to her commercial success. In 1977, her R&B renditions of “Married But Not to Each Other” by Denise LaSalle and “Woman to Woman” by Shirley Brown reached the top five on the country singles charts in the United States and Canada, respectively. Her first single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Woman to Woman.” These tracks were featured on her sixth and seventh studio albums, both of which were released the same year (1977). In the late 1970s, Mandrell found her biggest commercial success with songs about adultery, a trend that extended into the early 1980s. “In Black & White”, her eleventh studio album, debuted at number seven on Billboard’s country albums chart. Her subsequent fourteenth studio album, 1983’s Spun Gold, debuted at number five on the same chart. With her fame, Mandrell was able to release a gospel album in 1982 titled “He Set My Life to Music”. It was for this work that Mandrell won her first Grammys.
In 1984, she recorded a number of duets with Lee Greenwood. The duets were included on her 1984 studio album “Meant for Each Other”, which also contained the top five country single “To Me.” The album, which included other singles like “Only a Lonely Heart Knows” and “Happy Birthday, Dear Heartache,” peaked in the top ten on the Billboard charts.
After leaving Columbia Records in 1986, Mandrell signed with EMI America in 1987. “Sure Feels Good” was her debut album for the label. On Billboard’s chart of top country albums, it debuted at position #24. As a new generation of more conventionally minded country performers found greater financial success, Mandrell’s future singles and albums fell to lower and lower chart positions. The popularity of Mandrell’s live performances, however, kept her on the road throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In late 1987, Mandrell inked a contract with Capitol Records. Covering Ray Price’s “I Wish I Could Fall in Love Today,” her debut hit for Capitol climbed to the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Canadian Hot 100. The song was featured on her nineteenth studio album, “I’ll Be Your Jukebox Tonight” (1988). The project had a classic country sound, and Fred Foster was credited as a producer for the first time. In addition, “My Train of Thought” (1989) and “Mirror, Mirror” (1990) both became successful singles as a result of the album’s success. Both of these songs were her last charting hits in the United States. Mandrell worked with Capitol all the way up until 1991. She kept doing her network television concert specials live. In addition, she continued to be a crowd favourite during her appearances on the Grand Ole Opry’s broadcasts. Also, Mandrell kept on making music and releasing albums. In 1994, two albums of her work were published by the New York label Direct Records. These studio album projects were only aired on television networks like TNN for promotion purposes. After Mandrell secured a short-term contract with Razor & Tie in 1997, her subsequent album was published under that label. In the same year, 1997, Mandrell announced she would no longer be singing live or releasing any new music. Mandrell sold her collection of musical instruments after she finally decided to retire. She is now devoted to her household duties and her family.
The crash that dented her music career
Barbara Mandrell was very much a part of the music scene until a car accident caused a downturn in her career.
Mandrell was engaged in a head-on car collision with her two children on September 11, 1984, not far from their Nashville home. The other car’s driver, Mark White, a 19-year-old college student, was killed instantly. According to the police report, White’s vehicle was at fault for the collision between his and Mandrell’s Jaguar XJ because it crossed the centre line. Both of Mandrell’s kids were admitted to the hospital, but they were treated and released soon after because of their relatively mild injuries. Mandrell was seriously hurt in the collision. Among these wounds were a broken femur, a broken ankle, a sprained knee, and a concussion with temporary brain damage.
After the accident, Mandrell experienced widespread discomfort for a long time due to her injuries. She experienced a lot of physical agony as a result of her knee problems. Her brain injuries caused a short-lived change in her personality and some transient memory loss. It took her more than a year to make a full recovery from his wounds. She said in an interview with CMT that she needed around three years to recuperate from the brain damage. Mandrell said that she and her children might not be alive today if they hadn’t been wearing seat belts. She spearheaded an effort and made commercials encouraging drivers and passengers to use safety belts. As an advocate, she worked to raise awareness for both arthritis and organ donation. In 1985, she became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s honorary chairperson.
A little over a year after the incident, Mandrell filed a lawsuit against the Whites, seeking $10.3 million in compensation for his losses. Mandrell was obligated to sue the driver’s family in order to collect from her own insurance carrier, as per Tennessee law. Her legal team reached out to the Whites in an effort to clarify that Mandrell wasn’t asking for money but was required to contact them by law. Since most of Mandrell’s fans were unaware of the litigation or of Tennessee’s confusing insurance regulations, it sparked controversy among the singer’s devoted followers. All they read about was the lawsuit filed against the family who had lost a son. As a direct result, there was a precipitous decline in sales of both her records and concert tickets.
Her visit to the Opry for her 50th anniversary
The Grand Ole Opry still feels like home to Barbara Mandrell, despite the Grammy winner and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame having ended her musical career more than 20 years ago. On July 31 of this year, the 73-year-old legend made a rare public appearance at the Opry’s Saturday night event to commemorate her 50th anniversary as a member of the Opry.
Mandrell, who was born in Texas but raised in California, joined the group in July of 1972 at the tender age of 23. However, she was already a seasoned performer by the time she arrived in Nashville, having spent her adolescent years playing steel guitar and making regular appearances on the California-based country TV show “Town Hall Party.”
By incorporating R&B cover songs and a glamorous, showy persona into her country music, she became the first performer in the genre’s history to win consecutive entertainer of the year awards from the Country Music Association(CMA). Whether she was belting out a song or showing off her skills on the pedal steel, banjo, or saxophone, her concerts were a musical feast. Mandrell showed her support for the female artists who performed her songs at the Opry, including CeCe Winans, Linda Davis, and Suzy Bogguss. Since Mandrell retired in 1997, she hasn’t made any musical contributions beyond singing in church. Her final performance was recorded in a TV special titled “Barbara Mandrell and the Do-Rites: The Last Dance,” and it took place at the Opry House.
There you have it. It’s now time to hear from you. Among Barbara Mandell’s studio releases, which one is your favourite?