Country Music Hall of Famer and Grammy winner Barbara Mandrell stepped away from the limelight nearly two decades ago, but the legend recently made her triumphant return to the stage.
Fierce females in country such as Carrie Underwood, CeCe Winans, Suzy Bogguss, Linda Davis, Jeannie Seely, Janelle Arthur, Mandy Barnett, and Connie Smith took to the Grand Ole Opry Saturday evening (July 30) to celebrate Mandrell's 50th anniversary as a member of the sacred venue.
"Here we are at home again," said Mandrell to The Associated Press before stepping into the hallowed Circle. "50 years. Not everybody gets that blessing," she added.
The "Darlin'" singer became a Grand Ole Opry member in July of 1972, just at 23-years-old. It was no surprise Mandrell was initiated into the prestigious institution, as she dedicated her livelihood to music very early on in life. By the time Mandrell turned five, she was reading sheet music and playing the accordion. Mandrell's professional career took off when critically acclaimed guitarist Joe Maphis noticed Mandrell's unmatched talents at a music trade convention in Chicago. Maphis catapulted Mandrell to stardom, by offering her a spot in his Las Vegas nightclub show. In 1961 she made her television debut on "Five Star Jubilee" and became a regular on a western variety music dance show titled, "Town Hall Party."
It wasn't long until she inked a deal with Columbia Records in 1969 and released the single "I've Been Loving You Too Long" with producer Billy Sherrill. Following multiple Top 40 hits and scoring her first No.1 album with "The Midnight Oil," Mandrell developed into a household name with televised program – "Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters." With several best-selling records, chart-topping singles, and big-screen appearances, Mandrell became the first multi-instrumentalist to receive the CMA Entertainer of the Year award back-to-back. Before retiring, Mandrell held one last performance at the Grand Ole Opry House in 1997.
Underwood was among many musicians who praised Mandrell during the recent tribute show. The "Ghost Story" star highlighted Mandrell's impact on the genre. Dressed in a striking gold gown, Underwood delivered a chilling cover of Mandrell's 1981 classic "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool."
Before introducing the icon to the stage, Underwood explained how Mandrell influenced her craft throughout the years.
"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," uttered Underwood. "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."
Shortly after a thunderous standing ovation, Mandrell explained why she holds her Opry family near and dear to her heart.
"My last show when I retired in 1997 I chose my home to do my finale performance on and it was this one," said Mandrell to the audience members in the church-like pews.
Throughout the show, the powerhouse vocalists in attendance delivered fan-favorite hits from her impressive repertoire.
"There are so many great, great huge talented woman that performed for us tonight and said so many incredible things about me," she explained. "They know I love them. And the Opry…Lord knows I love the Opry," the genre-bending phenomenon added.
On Saturday, August 6, the Opry will honor country trailblazer John Anderson. Anderson is set to perform songs from the upcoming album, "Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute To John Anderson." Special guests Dan Auerbach, Tyler Childers, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Sierra Hull, and Elizabeth Cook are all expected to participate in the unforgettable night. The celebration will air live (August 6) on Circle Television and on the Circle's social media channels.