When she was eleven, Barbara joined her father in traveling from their then home in California to a music trade show in Chicago. She was to serve as his demonstrator, playing various musical instruments for the attendees. Chet Atkins and "Uncle" Joe Maphis happened upon the little girl, and were mightily impressed. Maphis invited Barbara to join his show at the Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas. She did, and the "Joe Maphis Show" served as both launching pad and teacher for the young Barbara, becoming one of the single greatest influences on her musicianship and performing style.
Barbara became a regular on the Los Angeles TV show "Town Hall Party," and soon after made her network television debut on Red Foley's ABC-TV show "Five Star Jubilee." This was followed by a concert tour with four of country music's absolute legends - "The Johnny Cash Show" featuring Cash, Patsy Cline, George Jones and June Carter.
Irby, Mary and Barbara were inspired to form a musical group, aptly named The Mandrells. The family band toured not only the West Coast but traveled to 18 foreign countries, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, entertaining the military communities and various civic groups.
The Mandrells hired drummer Ken Dudney for their act. Eventually, Ken traded his drumsticks for another "tour of duty," this time with the United States Navy. Shortly after receiving his wings as a Navy pilot in 1967, Ken and Barbara were married. Ken was sent overseas, and Barbara decided to retire her young career and become a housewife.
Retirement, however, was not meant to be for Barbara. One night while visiting the Grand Ole Opry with her father, she whispered in his ear, "Daddy, I wasn't cut out to be in the audience." Within 48 hours of a nightclub appearance near the Opry, she received six different recording contract offers. She signed with CBS Records in 1969, debuting with Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long," and unveiling her trademark blue-eyed soul style that was an instant hit with radio stations.
Barbara recorded a string of country hit singles, including her first Number One hit, "Midnight Oil," in 1973. Even today, that record is regarded as a major breakthrough for female country music artists because of it's drama and startling frankness. 1975 found Barbara at ABC Records (purchased by MCA in 1978) where her first release "Standing Room Only," established her as a powerful ballad singer.
Another early hit of Barbara's was a forecast of what was to come in her career. "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed" crossed over from the country charts to the pop charts, widening her audience greatly. And as the '70's drew to a close, Barbara began to embrace a "country" rhythm and blues style, topping the charts with torchy tunes like "Woman to Woman," "Married, But Not To Each Other," "Years," and "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want To Be RIght)." Barbara recorded 18 hit albums for MCA Records before moving to Capitol Records in 1986, with whom she released six albums.
1979 brought Barbara her first Country Music Association "Female Vocalist of the Year" award; a luminous honor and the first of many accolades in her career. It was also the year that television producer Marty Krofft convinced both NBC-TV and Barbara of the potential for a weekly TV show. "Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters" was a success both critically and with fans, earning consistent top 40 ratings during its two years on the air (1980-81, 1981-82). A grueling schedule of 16 hour work days had exhausted Barbara and strained her voice, and after her doctor ordered her to do so, she retired the series. The show re-aired Saturday nights on The Nashville Network from January 1990-1991, and was TNN's highest rated program.
In 1983, Barbara triumphantly debuted her stage extravaganza The Lady Is A Champ at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel. She then brought the entire production home to Nashville for three sold-out performances at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, where it was taped for her first HBO cable TV special.
By this time, Barbara was a veteran of many television guest appearances. In the Spring of 1984, she segued to acting, starring in the CBS-TV movie Burning Rage. She taped her first network variety special soon after, using various locations over a period of several months. Barbara Mandrell -- Something Special wrapped barely two months before the life-shattering event that would change Barbara's life forever.
On the evening of September 11, 1984, Barbara and two of her children came dangerously close to death when a young driver's car drifted across two lanes and then over the center line of a street near her home in Tennessee, crashing head-on into Barbara's car. Both cars were demolished, and the young driver was killed. Only minutes before the crash, Barbara had witnessed a station wagon, hatch down, with children hanging out of the back. Wondering how an adult could put children in such a precarious position and noting the danger, she buckled her seat belt and asked daughter Jaime and son Matt to do the same. Until that very moment, Barbara confesses that she had not been a seat belt user. Barbara suffered a sever concussion, a broken right leg, broken right ankle, a damaged right knee, and various cuts and bruises. Matt suffered a broken nose, cracked cheekbone, some internal injuries and seat belt bruises.
The accident brought her fast-moving train of a career to an abrupt halt. There were many months of physical pain and mental anguish, and many more in physical theropy. The following January, Barbara held a major news conference to set straight the rumors regarding her condition, telling the media she was "grateful to be among the living." With the help of her strong faith and supportive family, Barbara made a full recovery, debuting post-accident with a live performance at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles on February 28, 1986.
Over the years, Barbara had enjoyed an extraordinary and varied television career. She starred in her NBC series and in specials for HBO, CBS and TNN; hosted shows from the "Tonight Show" to the "People's Choice Awards," and made guest appearances on a countless string of programs -- from the "Barbara Walters Special" and "Larry King Live" to "Hee Haw." Barbara is certainly universal and enduring; hers is one of the most recognizable faces of today and has been for most of her public life.
Barbara's 1990 autobiography Get To The Heart: My Story debuted on the New York Times Best Sellers list after four short days, and then remained there for six months. Written with George Vecsey, she unfolds the events, memories and philosophies of her life with genuine honesty and warmth.
A totally devoted wife and mother, Barbara has always made family and faith her first priorities. Among her most prized awards are her "Outstanding Mother of the Year Award" (1983) from the National Mothers Day Committee, and her "Mom of the Year Award" (1992) from Mom U.S.A. The Mandrells are as close-knit as they appear; a family network of support and encouragement. Avid skiers and sport shooters, they vacation and compete together regularly.
On October 23, 1997 Barbara Mandrell gave her farewell performance in a sell-out concert penned "Barbara Mandrell and The Do-Rites: The Last Dance." "The Last Dance" marked Barbara's cross-over from the musical stage to the acting stage.
Though music had always been Barbara's mainstay, other entertainment forums appealed to her. After a guest appearance on "The Commish" sparked her interest in 1994, she began seeking other dramatic roles. Barbara has since appeared on "Touched By An Angel," "Baywatch," "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," "Diagnosis, Murder," "Love Boat: The Next Wave," and maintained a recurring role as Alex Mitchum on Aaron Spelling's "Sunset Beach." In September 1997, CBS premiered "Get To The Heart: The Barbara Mandrell Story," a Movie of the Week based on Barbara Mandrell's life story, and in 1999, Mandrell starred in the NBC Movie of the Week, "The Wrong Girl." Currently, Mandrell is looking forward to her upcoming role in "Stolen From The Heart," a CBS Movie of the Week co-starring Tracey Gold.
Barbara Mandrell is a true star in the very best sense of the word. A career this far reaching could prove to be heady stuff for some, but through faith and grounded good sense, Mandrell has managed to embrace all that is good about her public life without letting go of the positives in her family life. A true star, yes, and an evolving woman, too. She may have everything, but she gives the gift of talent to her fans unselfishly.