After retiring from music more than 20 years ago, Country Music Hall of Famer and Grammy winner Barbara Mandrell, 73, made a rare public appearance on July 30 when she returned to the Grand Ole Opry to celebrate her 50th anniversary as a member. To honor the legendary singer, several artists performed Mandrell’s songs, including Carrie Underwood, who sang Mandrell’s 1981 hit “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.”
“Here we are at home again,” said Mandrell in a backstage interview at the Opry. “50 years—not everybody gets that blessing.”
Just 23 when she became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in July of 1972, Mandrell was already a seasoned performer in her teens before moving to Nashville, playing steel guitar and appearing on the country music television show Town Hall Party in her home state of California. Along with hits like “If Loving You is Wrong (I Don’t Want to be Right)” and “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” Mandrell picked up numerous awards and accolades throughout her career. She was the first artist to earn back-to-back Entertainer of the Year awards from the Country Music Association, won two Grammy awards, and had a popular run with her early ’80s TV show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, which introduced a blend of music and artists in pop, R&B, and gospel along with country.
“So many would say things like, ‘I never listened to country music, but now, boy, I’m watching every Saturday night and I love it,’” said Mandrell of her then genre-bending show.
On Oct. 23, 1997, Mandrell, who was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009, gave her last concert at the Grand Ole Opry before retiring from music.
“My last show when I retired in 1997 I chose my home to do my finale performance on and it was this one,” Mandrell shared.
“It’s called show business,” said Mandrell of her multi-instrumental shows, which often featured the artist singing and playing everything from banjo, saxophone, and pedal steel. “You need to show them something. Otherwise, they could sit at home and listen to your recordings or listen to you on the radio. You’ve got to give them something that entertains them.”
For Underwood, Mandrell’s voice was one she says was always present when she was growing up. “She has been such an inspiration to me and so many others that stand on the shoulders of great female artists like her,” said Underwood to the Opry crowd.
“Everyone talks about Barbara’s beauty. But, as gorgeous as she is, she is just as beautiful inside. In addition to all of those other things we love about her, she has always worn her faith on her sleeve. She let us know you can love the Lord AND raise a little…heck,” shared Underwood before welcoming Mandrell to the stage. “She has been such an inspiration to me and so many others that stand on the shoulders of great female artists like her. It’s especially fitting to pay tribute to her tonight, in this sacred place we both hold so dear.”
In addition to Underwood’s performance, throughout the evening, CeCe Winans, Linda Davis, and Suzy Bogguss also performed some of Mandrell’s hits.
“There are so many great, great huge talented women that performed for us tonight and said so many incredible things about me…they know I love them. And the Opry…Lord knows I love the Opry,” shared Mandrell.
“I already feel on top of the world,” added Mandrell. “I feel the deepest of gratitude and excitement because I am such a huge fan of these ladies.”
Main photo by: Eric Ahlgrim