How time flies when you’re having fun. That’s exactly how Barbara Mandrell’s multi-decade career in music could be portrayed. Undoubtedly, her long and winding venture throughout practically every facet of the entertainment world has allowed millions of fans from around the world to dance right along with her — through both the good times and the bad ones.
As with all dances, however, the music finally stops, and a brand new song sets a different tempo. Mandrell is certainly no stranger to change and new challenges; but for her and her long-time Do-Rites Band to actually perform their final public musical concert was a dance that obviously required some difficult, as well as extremely emotional steps. She calls the spectacular Nashville event Barbara Mandrell & The Do-Rites: The Last Dance.
Held at the famed Grand Ole Opry House — most appropriate since she’s been an Opry member for more than 25 years — the farewell concert captures Mandrell’s career from its very origin. Pulling everything she has from out of the hat, including cosmical back-up dancers, multi-costume changes and an overall explosive production; the two-hour musical extravaganza results in both a celebrated and tearful occasion. The show brilliantly features heartwarming tributes from family, friends and countless fans. Other highlights include her phenomenal hit-list of songs, including such favorites as “Sleeping Single In A Double Bed,” “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” and “Midnight Oil,” as well as fascinating retrospective segments of favorite television moments. In its entirety, The Last Dance is truly a historical landmark in music history.
“Barbara Mandrell is the epitome of show business,” said long-time friend and fan Reba McEntire just before the farewell concert. “It’s gonna be tough for me sitting in the audience watching her for the last time.”
With only a short time having passed since that heart-stirring evening of music and celebration, Mandrell’s reflection on the event, as well as her decision to depart from the musical stage to further pursue her acting career, is bittersweet.
“While I was getting ready back in my dressing room before the show, I think about three times I did this — I started to cry,” she reveals to country.com, while on vacation at her and husband/manager Ken Dudney’s Aspen, Colorado, home. “I’m very much a look-you-in-the-eye kind of person, and I remember that everywhere I looked that night I saw family, friends and fans who had been members of the fan club forever. My heart was just about to burst.”
Having maintained an overwhelmingly busy concert schedule for years, appeared on countless TV specials, series and episodes, and accepted more than 75 awards; Mandrell, who was belting out her soulful voice at age eleven, was by no means a victim of stage fright on this musical finale evening. There was, however, a spiritual presence that seemed to have carried the weight.
“Let me first say this, I never, never knew, literally and truly, what stage fright was,” she admits. “I guess because I started so young I never knew that you were supposed to be scared,” she laughs. “I am a ham; I mean to the point of even when I was in grade school. When we would have oral book reports, I was the one waving my arm like crazy going ’Pick me, pick me!’ That’s just me. I’m not shy at all. But I had a very serious head injury in a car crash in 1984,” she transcends to a very emotional tone. “It was 18 months later that when I did come back, I knew for the first time in my life what stage fright was. It was the sick stomach, wanting to cry and all the shaking. I felt like I was going to explode. It was awful. But the mind is a very powerful thing. From time to time, that feeling would hit me during my healing period. So yes, I am aware of what stage fright is now, but until then, I never knew what it was.
“But my last performance with the Do-Rites wasn’t the stage fright thing,” she continues. “I don’t have the words to really describe the emotion. I’m being very candid here in saying that it was only God who got me through it. Because within my own heart and mind, I really just wanted to plop down in the middle of that stage and just bawl. I didn’t lose it until after the last encore. When I was being played off, I went up onto the set to each of my nine Do-Rites and kissed them. I kissed them and just cried. I love them so much.”
The Do-Rites to Barbara have been very much like her own family. Some members of the exceptionally talented band have been with the former CMA Entertainer of the Year longer than some members of her family.
“I know it sounds corny, but Mr. Lawrence Welk used to describe his band and crew as his musical family. My band really is. They each brought such a wealth of talent. All nine of them were so diversified in their expertise.”
Barbara and the Do-Rites (Charles Bundy, Roger Eaton, Mark Evans, Doug Hamilton, Wes Johnson, Mike “Cookie Monster” Jones, Mark Nemer, Dino Pastin & Chris Walters) rehearsed for The Last Dance concert for two months — every day except Sunday for eight hours a day.
“I guess I always sort of looked at myself as the quarterback of this team,” says Barbara. “I would create our game plan, and we would go. Quarterbacks are pretty important, but they certainly can’t walk out there on the field and do it all themselves. So it was very much a team effort. One of the things that I think I will miss most is I used to love it when I would take my legal pad and start creating what our show would be that next year. That was such a pleasure to me.”
Another pleasure for Barbara was spotting her father and former manager Irby and mother Mary in the audience. “We were sharing it all,” she explained. “My father is the only reason for the career that I’ve had in music. I did start to lose it then.”
Yet what’s lost is gained through something new to fill the void. Barbara would be the first to agree to such an optimistic approach to life. A more focused plunge into acting is just what the doctor ordered. She announced only a short time ago that she would refocus her energy away from music and concentrate on her acting career — water in which she’s done a fair share of wading already. In addition to another recent role in the popular television program, Touched By An Angel, the multi-talented performer has also been playing the role of Alex on the soap opera Sunset Beach, as well as hosting her own jewelry line segment on QVC.
The acting world first became a part of her life in 1984, when she landed a part in the CBS Movie of the Week, Burning Rage. She’s also made several other television appearances, including The Commish, Empty Nest, Diagnosis Murder, Baywatch, The Rockford Files and Dr. Quinn – Medicine Woman. Additionally, Mandrell created a phenomenal success story with the highly-rated variety show, Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters, which aired during the 80s and reeled in 40 million viewing people a week.
“Right now, I’m wide open for anything,” she admits about playing different roles. “That’s the fun of it — possibly getting to be all these different people. I’ve never really done anything comical, and I am kind of a silly person.”
Barbara is currently in hope of landing an upcoming role for a television movie. She’s also reading various scripts for other parts. Television will always hold a dear spot in her heart.
“The television is my friend,” she admits. “Some people say ’Won’t you miss the immediate reaction from singing and playing music?’ Well, who wouldn’t miss that love and response from the people who are kind enough to spend their time with you so you can entertain them. But for me, that was one of the deciding factors that helped make this decision for me. Even if I did 100 dates for a few thousand people a night, that still doesn’t add up at all, and not even close, to the number of people watching one television performance. What makes me so happy is entertaining people and knowing that I can give people something that will make them glad they spent that time with me. Television will be a way that I’ll be able to continue doing that, but on a bigger scale.
“I love television. I really, really do. It’s my hope to do a lot of television and different guest appearances. It’s also my hope to maybe have a supporting role in a feature film with really great actors and directors. I’m truly a person that when I commit to something, I push and drive myself very hard. So I’m ready to jump in with both feet.”
It was with the same drive, commitment and both feet that Barbara jumped in when she planned her Barbara Mandrell & The Do-Rites: The Last Dance exclusive TNN special. The result is a dance you may very well never want to finish.
“It was what it should have been,” she concludes. “It was a one-time thing that could have never been before and never will be again.”