Nashville, Tenn. (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 home to her.
Mandrell, 73, made a rare public appearance at the Opry on Saturday night to celebrate his 50th anniversary of being an Opry member.
“Here we are at home again,” Mandrell told the Associated Press in an interview at the Opry House ahead of the long-running radio and TV program. “50 years. Not everyone gets that blessing.”
Born in Texas and raised in California, Mandrell was just 23 years old when she became a member in July of 1972. But by the time she came to Nashville, she was already a seasoned entertainer after her teen years playing steel guitar and making regular appearances. California-based country TV show “Town Hall Party”.
In her decades-long career, the actor, multi-instrumentalist, and singer garnered millions of fans in country music not only through her popular TV show “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters” in the ’70s and ’80s, but also through the hits. Changed. 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 R&B covers and bringing glamor and showmanship to the genre. Her performance was a display of her musicality, whether singing on top of rafters, pedal steel, playing the banjo or saxophone.
“It’s called show business. You need to show them something,” Mandrell said. “Otherwise, they could sit at home listening to your recording or listening to you on the radio. You have to give them something that is theirs. Have fun.”
Along with his sisters Louise and Irene, Mandrell harnessed the power of television to bring new ears to country music as well as gospel music. His musical guests were a mix of R&B, pop and country artists.
“A lot of people would say, ‘I’ve never listened to country music, but now, boy, I’m watching it every Saturday night and I love it,'” Mandrell said.
This Saturday night, Mandrell was still the champion of country music. Before the show began, Mandrell watched Carrie Underwood from the side stage as Underwood soundchecked “I Was Country When the Country Wasn’t Cool”, stopping to hug and congratulate Underwood’s band members.
Underwood said that growing up, Mandrell’s voice was always around.
“She has been such an inspiration to me and many others who stand on the shoulders of great female artists like her,” Underwood told the Opry crowd.
During the Opry show, Mandrell enthusiastically applauded the all-female artist 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 a huge fan of these women,” Mandrell said.
From his seat in the middle of the crowd, Mandrell waved and kissed to his fans, who photographed the country star.
Mandrell has not music or sang – other than at church – since retiring in 1997. Her last concert was held at the Opry House and was made into a TV special, “Barbara Mandrell and the Do-Rites: The Last Dance.”
Smartly dressed in a hot pink pantsuit and surrounded by 50 vases of roses bought by her fans, Mandrell said another goodbye from the same Opry stage 25 years later.
“I chose my house to do my last performance and this was the one,” Mandrell said. “May god bless you!” He told the fans before leaving the stage in the shadows.
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