WITH HER JANUARY induction into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn., Barbara Mandrell was recognized for the multi-instrumental talents that helped launch her career more than 50 years ago.
Known for country hits including “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” “If Loving You Is Wrong,” “Years” and “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” Mandrell was already the Country Music Association’s first two-time Entertainer of the Year and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
But she kicked off her professional career at 10 after family friend Norman Hamlet, Merle Haggard’s band leader and steel guitarist, taught her how to play the challenging instrument as a young teen.
“I had been playing only six months when I got my first job, as an instrumentalist,” says Mandrell, 65, who also plays accordion, saxophone, banjo and dobro. “That’s what opened the doors.”
When she was 13 and touring with Johnny Cash, another performer told her it would be cool if she’d add singing to her repertoire.
“I don’t know anybody that is more talented than Barbara,” says Joe Chambers, founder of the Musicians Hall of Fame. “Her ability to play, dance, sing and act and everything else is amazing.”
Retired since 1997, Mandrell lives in Nashville with Ken Dudney, her husband of 47 years. Their three grown children, Matthew, Jaime and Nathan, are married. She says her kids and two step- granddaughters are “a huge part of our life.”
“I keep my house. I cook. It’s kind of wonderful because we’re both retired and we kind of do what we darn well want,” she says. That includes RVing, gardening and stocking 20 bird feeders in the yard.
Siblings Louise, 59, and Irlene, 58, who co-starred on her 1980-1982 Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters TV variety show, live nearby and continue their careers. Looking over her shoulder, she sees several performers following in her footsteps as a total entertainment package.
“I hesitate to name names,” she says, “because there are so many names that I’ll be remiss not to say.” Carrie Underwood is “the total package,” she says. “She’s very sure of what she’s doing and very polished. And Taylor Swift— that whole thing again, as well as her fantastic writing. And Justin Timberlake is my favorite. He just really throws it down.”
A native of Houston, Texas, Mandrell has called Nashville home for more than 45 years.
“I fell in love with the people. It’s real neighborly,” she says. “I wasn’t born here and I didn’t grow up here, but I chose to live here.
“There’s plenty to do and see here. [Visitors] can get a little sense of that from watching the television show Nashville. It’s a beautiful, wonderful city.”