35 Years After Their Variety Show, Here Is The Truth About The Mandrell Sisters


The Variety Show That Captivated Millions

Barbara Mandrell released her first hit single, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, in 1969. Due to her large success, she was approached by TV executives to create her own variety show. “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters” premiered in 1980. The show featured several comedy sketches as well as performances by famous guest musicians and the Mandrell sisters. Before it went off air, it was drawing over 40 millions viewers per week. With such big success, questions were raised as to why the show was taken off air.

A Forbidden Love

The Mandrell sister’s father, Irby, formed the Mandrell Family Band. The band feature Barbara, Irlene, Louise, Irby, their mother, Mary Ellen, and a drummer named Ken Dudney. At the time Ken was 21-years-old and Barbara was only 14-years-old. They fell for each other. Due to the age difference, Barbara’s parents separated the young lovers and were forbidden from seeing each other. It was not until many years later that they were able to return to each other.

Louise’s Personality Was A Promotional Ploy

Through much of her early career, Louise felt like she was not being “honest” with herself. She was much less reserved than she was being portrayed in the media. She said “I judged everything I did by what I thought Barbara and my family would like, not by my standards. But unless you accept yourself and like yourself, you can’t expect other people to accept you—that’s something Barbara kept preaching to me.” Therefore, after the variety show, she created her a new image.

Louise’s New Image

After branching off for her solo career, Louise made a new, sexier image for herself. The cover of her first album, Close Up, certainly portrayed that. The cover, was also a surprise her husband at the time, R.C. Bannon. “Miniskirts and tight leather pants are what I feel most comfortable in,” Louise told People. “I’m one of those Christians the Romans would have thrown to the lions.”

Irlene Is Proficient With A Crossbow

Aside from singing and acting, Irlene is an avid hunter. She has hunted extensively across North America and is proficient with several guns and the crossbow. For many years, she hosted the “Irlene Mandrell Celebrity Shoot”, which was competition of shooting clays to raise money for Wish Upon a Star, Inc. and the Boy Scouts of America.

Ken Proposed Multiple Times To Barbara

Barbara fell in love with Ken at a very young age. Although they were separated by her parents, they still remained faithful to each other in distance. When they were able to return to each other, Ken proposed…several times. However, Barbara kept turning him down. She told CBN the reason she turned him down was because she wanted to finish high school first.

Hit Single Caused Controversy

Country music lyrics always have strong emotional connection to them. Many songs normally tell the story of love or heartbreak. Barbara was a pioneer of women in country music. Her breakthrough hit, “The Midnight Oil”, was actually quite controversial. It was the first time a song was sung from the perspective of a woman who was cheating in a relationship, rather than the man.

First Record Label Wanted To Drop Barbara

Barbara’s first record label was Columbia Records. Her first few years recording country-soul songs did not see much success. She worked mainly with producer Billy Sherrill. Sherill released a book called “How Nashville Became a Music City”. In the book, Sherill says he was questioned by Columbia executives as to why Billy wanted to keep Mandrell, as she was not selling any records.

Barbara’s Net Worth Is 4x Bigger Than Louise’s & Irlene’s Combined

Although Barbara, Irlene and Louise all began working in music at a very young age, Barbara was clearly the public favorite. She succeeded in creating several hit albums. Her success is certainly seen through her net worth of $45 million. Louise’s and Irlene’s net worth combined is only $10 million.

Irlene Has Been Married Three Times

Irlene is similar to her older sister Barbara in many ways, however, a long marriage is not one of them. Irlene has been married three times. She was married to Rick Boyer from 1978-1992 and Rob Pincus from 1994-2004. She married her current husband, Patrick Holt, in 2015. She had two children with Boyer, and one child with Pincus.

Lived In A House Of Animals

Barbara has lived in several homes. However, she once lived in a home that she dubbed “Maison d’ Animaux”, which translated means “house of animals”. This name was given because she had so many animals living with her: two dogs, four cats and a cockatoo. Outside, she also created a bird garden, that in the summer would also home squirrels, chipmunks and turtles.

Barbara’s Son Struggled With Addiction

The Mandrells are very family-oriented. Barbara and Ken have 3 children: Jaime, Nathaniel, and Kenneth. For many years, her son Kenneth struggled with alcoholism. However, after seeking medical help, he is fully recovered. Today, he is married to Christian recording artist Christy Sutherland and travels with her as her personal manager.

Louise Wrote A Book To Defend Her Sister

Louise Mandrell set out to write a book because people were making things up about her sister Barbara. Louise told UPI, “In my lifetime she’s [Barbara] the most perfect person I’ve met. I got tired of people making things up. We made it because we worked hard, thought positively and stood up for what we believed in.” “The Mandrell Family Album” was publish in 1983.

Barbara Doesn’t Believe She Is Smart

When you are considered a child prodigy and grow to have an extremely successful career, most would believe you have a pretty high intelligence. However, not Barbara. She credits the people she surrounded herself with as the brains of the operations. She once said, “I might not be very smart, but I surround myself with smart people.”

Barbara Originally Retired To Become A Housewife

Very early in her career, after touring the world with her family band, Barbara Mandrell almost left music for good. In 1966, soon after marrying Ken Dudney, she decided she would retire from music to become a housewife. However, she realized music was her calling and she returned to the business.

Barbara Thought She Lost Her 3rd Child To A Miscarriage

Ten years after their second child Jamie was born, Barbara Mandrell was pregnant with her third child. One night, Barbara believed she may had possibly miscarried the child and was not able to get an ultrasound until the morning. She said, “We had to go all through the night thinking that our baby was dead. When God showed him to us, he wasn’t dead, he was sucking his thumb. He is a miracle.”

Louise Has Been Married 4 Times

Unfortunately, not everyone can have a long lasting marriage like Ken and Barbara. Louise has been married four different times. She was married to Ronald Shaw from 1971-1973, Gary Lamar Buck from 1975-1978, R.C. Bannon from 1979-1991, and she married her current husband, John Haywood, in 1993. Despite the many marriages, Barbara does not regret anything as it has only made her more passionate in her music.

Lived In The Largest Log Home In The World, Which Is Now A Museum

Barbara Mandrell and her family lived in a mansion in White Creeks, Tennessee, for many years. When the family moved out of the home it became a museum. The mansion is called the “Fontanel” and has 20 rooms, 13 bathrooms and an indoor pool. It is considered the largest log home ever built. Visitors are welcome most days of the year.


Peter Jennings Called Barbara ‘Naughty’

In 2015, Dan Morgan published his memoir, “Last Stage Manager Standing”. Morgan was a stage manager for nearly 50 years. In his memoir, he tells his inside stories from the many sets he worked on. He once worked with renowned news anchor Peter Jennings. Morgan retold a story of when Jennings discussed Barbara. “I remember one time Peter had just gotten back from a trip somewhere,” Morgan wrote. “He was talking about how [singer] Barbara Mandrell was ‘naughty.’ He had a look like the Cheshire cat.”

Credits God For Her Long Marriage

Barbara and Ken have been married for 50 years, a long time for any couple and especially one that was constantly in the public eye. She attributes her long successful marriage to God. When asked about how the two have remained so strong, she said “By our Heavenly Father and only because of God, only because of God. We’re like other couples. We do not get along perfectly; we do not go without arguments and, as I call them, fights, and heartache and pain and hurting each other.”

Barbara Was A Child Prodigy

By the time Barbara was 9-years-old, she was already a master at playing the accordion and steel-pedal guitar. When she was 11, her talent was discovered by Joe Maphis and he asked her to be apart of his show in Vegas. Many other musicians saw her potential while performing with Joe. When she was 12, she toured with Johnny Cash.

Barbara Believes In A Three-Way Marriage

Barbara Mandrell believes in a three-way marriage. It is an ideal she follows with her husband as well as advised her son to follow, before he got married. During an interview with The Boot, Barbara said “My husband and I just told them [their son and future daughter-in-law] to pray together, to make it a three-way marriage: the two of them and God. There are times when Ken and I would like to put each other through a wall! [laughs] It happens, but we married for forever, and keeping God at the center of our lives has made it work and made it blessed and happy.”

Barbara Was The First Artist Two Win “Entertainer Of The Year” Twice

By the late 1970s, Barbara Mandrell was a huge star. She won her first American Country Music “Entertainer of the Year” Award, in 1979. She won it a second time in 1981. That made Barbara the first artist to ever win the award twice. It has only been done by one other artists – Taylor Swift.

Dolly Parton: Barbara Is A Star

Dolly Parton and Barbara rose to fame in country music at the same time. Despite the “competition” in the industry, the two were actually very close friends. Dolly spoke at Barbara’s Country Music Hall of Fame ceremony. During the speech, Dolly said “We’re all proud of you. When god made the universe he put most of the stars in the heavens, but he did leave a few here on earth like you to guide us along the way.”

Patsy Cline: Barbara Is A “Blonde Doll”

Barbara Mandrell’s talents were noticed very early on. By the time she was pre-teen, she was already being recruited by various artists to tour with them. One of those artists was Patsy Cline. After working with Barbara, Patsy said Barbara was a “a 13-year-old blonde doll who plays the steel guitar out of this world!”

Barbara’s Favorite Hobby Is Gardening

When the singer retired in 1997, she knew she had to pick up another hobby to take up her time. She was drawn to the outdoors, specifically gardening. She has noted that she can spend up to 10 hours at a time in her garden. She even made the flower arrangements and bouquets, from her own garden, for her sons Matt’s wedding. Along with gardening she also enjoys painting and creating mosaics.

Autobiography Turned Into A Movie

In 1990, Barbara wrote an autobiography titled “Get to the Heart: My Story”. It was a New York Times bestseller for 3 months. Due to both the book’s and Barbara’s popularity, the autobiography was turned into a TV movie by CBS. Maureen McCormick starred at Barbara. Barbara had a strong connection to the film as it also starred her daughter Jaime, who played her sister Irlene.

Many Musicians Gave Barbara Advice

Barbara believes she was very lucky to be around such talented people from such a young age. She would look to them for advice and take everything they said to heart. During an interview with CMT, she said “I would go back to Las Vegas when school would allow — summertime, Christmas holidays. Still, I was working with Red Foley, Tex Ritter, Jimmy Dickens and all of them. Because I was a child, they were so wonderful to give me such great advice, so all of them were my inspiration.”

Barbara’s True Inspiration

For Barbara, there was one person who’s advice stood out from the rest – Norman Hamlet. When asked which musician inspired her the most, she said “Norman Hamlet, the bandleader and steel guitarist for Merle Haggard for more than 30 years. He taught me the steel guitar, and I actually started as a musician playing the steel guitar and saxophone on my first job. Then shortly thereafter, I don’t remember who it was, maybe it was Uncle Joe Maphis, I don’t remember, but they said, ‘Can you sing?’ And I said, ‘Well, OK.'”

Barbara Can Play Seven Instruments

Barbara was efficient on the steel guitar before she was even 10-years-old. It was clear that she had a strong mind for music. It was not hard for her to learn how to play even more instruments. She considers herself proficient in the steel guitar, alto saxophone, dobro, five-string banjo and bass. However, if needed she can also play the guitar and mandolin.

Barbara Is A Fan Of American Idol

Barbara is a fan of American Idol. During an interview with CMT, when asked about reality TV singing shows, such as American Idol, she said “I think it’s terrific. I think it’s very needed. I think without those it would be impossible for so many gifted people to have any place to be discovered. I think it’s wonderful.”

Barbara Adores Julianne Hough

Julianne Hough saw her rise in fame as a regular cast dancer on “Dancing with the Stars”. After a few seasons, she was able to leave the show and extend her reach into music and film. Barbara is a fan of Julianne. “A new artist, who I adore is Julianne Hough from ‘Dancing With the Stars’ — wow, she’s a slammin’ dancer and a great singer. I’ve never met her, but she also seems to be so sweet,” Barbara told the Boot.

Barbara’s Near Death Experience

On September 11, 1984, Barbara Mandrell had a near-death experience. She was driving in the car, when she she was hit head on by a teen driver. Barbara suffered a leg fracture, a concussion and cuts, and had to undergo surgery. Her children were also treated at the hospital. The teen driver, was killed in the collision. This accident had a huge impact on her career and her life.

Accident Led To Decline in Popularity

Barbara Mandrell physically suffered greatly from her accident, but so did her career. Under the advice of her lawyer, Barbara was told to sue her insurance company in order to see payments for her injury. That lawsuit also included the family of the teen driver that was killed, as the family owned the car. Barbara said it was a mere formality in order to have the insurance company pay, but the damage was done. Many fans saw it as distasteful.

Accident Caused Change In Personality

Not only was Barbara affected physically by the accident but also mentally. She claims she had a change in personality. In an interview with CBN, she said “I would refer to myself in the third person: ‘That was her’ or ‘She did that’ or ‘You should have asked her. I can’t do that.'” The brain injury also left her confused and prone to bouts of rage.

The Road To Recovery

Along with the mental trauma, Barbara had a long road to physical recovery after her accident. During an interview with CMT, she said “I went to work about 18 months after, but my head injury was actually three years in the healing. … My right ankle, they said, is in recorded medical history. There were only 50 broken ankles like mine. I had five ankle breaks, five breaks down inside my ankle. And 10 orthopedic surgeons met to figure out what to do about my ankle.”

What Barbara Misses Most About Performing

There are many things a musical artist might miss after retiring: the costumes, the fans, or the money. However, Barbara misses something more unique – the spotlights. She said, “The lights! I miss the spotlights. I don’t mean it figuratively. I mean it literally. I love the feeling of lights.”

Favorite Thing About ‘Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters’

“Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters” was an extremely successful variety show that attracted loads of popular stars. However, it wasn’t the special guests that was Barbara’s favorite thing about the show. It was working with her sisters. “My favorite memory is working with Louise and Irlene,” she told CMT. “That’s the only time the three of us have worked together.

Trouble On The Set ‘Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters’

Like many young women, Louise Mandrell hoped for a fairytale love – a love that would last forever. When she was 16-years-old, she fell hard for a man named Ronald Shaw. They got married in 1973. Unfortunately, wedded bliss did not last long and the two bickered often. Despite Louise trying to mend the marriage, her effort was pointless, as Ronald was in love with someone else. They divorced after a only a few years of marriage. Unfortunately, Louise had to relive the pain when Ronald was hired as the TV show’s musical director.

Why ‘Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters’ Went Off-Air

At the peak of the variety show’s success, the show was drawing over 40 million viewers per week. In the days before cable, this number was extremely high. Therefore, many were surprised to hear the show was canceled after 2 seasons. The show stopped filming, not on the network’s terms, but rather Barbara’s. Barbara was still performing and creating music on top of the show. Due to all the stress, she suffered from a vocal strain. Her doctor advice her to end the show.

Barbara No Longer Performs In Public

Barbara retired in November 1997. She said the decision was ultimately made after reassessing her life and deciding to spend more time with her family. Today, she rarely performs in public, which may be due to the fact that she sold everything she used to perform with. During an interview with The Boot, Barbara said “Except for my steel guitar that’s in the Hall of Fame and my dobro that my parents gave me and had engraved, I sold everything else after I retired…I just don’t want any temptation!…The only place I sing is on the pew with everybody else in church.”