NASHVILLE, Tenn (AFP) – Grammy-winner Barbara Mandrell retired to Country Music Hall more than two decades ago, but the Grand Ole Opry still feels like its home.
Mandrill, 73, made a rare public appearance Saturday night at the Opry to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her being a member of the Opry.
“Here we are at home again,” Mandrell told The Associated Press in a behind-the-scenes interview at the Opry House ahead of the long-running radio and television program. “50 years old. Not everyone gets this blessing.”
Born in Texas and raised in California, Mandrill was only 23 when she became a member in July of 1972. But she was already a seasoned artist by the time she came to Nashville, having spent her teenage years playing hard guitar and appearing regularly on California-based country TV show “Town Hall Party”.
During her career spanning decades, the actress, multi-instrumentalist, and singer turned millions of fans into country music in the ’70s and ’80s, not only through her popular TV show “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters”, but also through hit songs like “Sleeping Singles”. On a double bed”, “If your love was wrong (I don’t want to be right)” and “I was the country when the country wasn’t great.”
She became the first country artist to win Female Artist of the Year awards from the Country Music Association, bypassing R&B covers and bringing brilliance and showmanship to the genre. Her performances were a showcase of her music, whether she was singing on top of the rafters, playing the steel pedal, 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 to entertain them.”
With her sisters Louise and Earlene, Mandrill 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.
Many would say things like, ‘I’ve never listened to country music, but now, boy, I watch every Saturday night and love it,’ Mandrill said.
Saturday night, Mandrill was still a country music champion. Before the show began, Mandrell watched Carrie Underwood from the side stage as Underwood checked her “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Great” voice, stopping to give her a hug and greeting by the Underwood band members.
Underwood said that while growing up, Mandrill’s voice was always there.
“She’s been an inspiration to me and so many others who stand on the shoulders of great female artists like her,” Underwood told Aubrey’s audience.
During the Aubrey Show, Mandrell enthusiastically praised the entire lineup of female artists, including CeCe Winans, Linda Davis, and Suzy Bogguss, as they performed her songs.
“I really feel like I’m on top of the world. I feel deeply grateful and excited to be a huge fan of these ladies,” Mandrell said.
From her seat in the crowd, Mandrill waved and was greeted by her fans who took pictures of the country star.
Mandrell has not played music or sings—other than church—since retiring in 1997. Her last concert was held at the Opry House and made into a TV special called “Barbara Mandrell and the Do-Rites: The Last Dance.”
Wearing an elegant pink jumpsuit surrounded by fifty vases of roses her fans had bought, Mandrill was another farewell from the same Aubrey stage 25 years later.
“I chose my home for my last performance and it was this home,” Mandrill said. “God bless you!” She told fans before she stepped off the stage into the shade.
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