I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool: Vintage Photos Of Barbara Mandrell

Different decades tend to emphasize different genres of music, but for music star Barbara Mandrell, Country was all that mattered. From a young age, the multitalented musician performed in her family band and alongside such giants as Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. To the surprise of record labels, Barbara’s music career got off to a rocky start. That didn’t stop her from persevering and eventually becoming the first artist to receive the Entertainer of the Year award two times in a row! Read on to see striking vintage photos that evoke just how much of a powerhouse this country music icon has always been.

She’s Been A Member Of The Grand Ole Opry Since ’72

Photo of Barbara Mandrell
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This stunning portrait underscores how young Barbara still was when she became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1972. The young star was just 23-years-old at the time, and this image dates back to two years prior.

Though Barbara seems strikingly young to have such poise and confidence in her field, we have to remember that she had already been a professional performer for more than a decade. It’s as though the young women was born ready to take on massive crowds.

Barbara Was Inducted Into The Music Hall Of Fame

Photo of Barbara Mandrell
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Known for hits like “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” and “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” Barbara Mandrell has been a legendary musician for decades. Though she’s been performing since childhood, it wasn’t until over a decade into retirement that she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Seven years later, Barbara was also inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. Years before these accolades, she received the Academy of Country Music’s highest award, The Pioneer Award.

She Was Entertainer Of The Year Two Times In A Row

1981 American Music Awards
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Any celebrity will tell you that having music talent is only part of the equation. Barbara proved that she wasn’t only a great singer, but also a captivating performer. That’s why she landed the Entertainer of the Year award two years in a row!

The honors came in 1980 and 1981 and made Barbara the first to receive the award two times back-to-back. The only person who has since attained the award two years in a row is Taylor Swift!

It Was A Family Affair

Mandrell Sisters with Dolly Parton
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Barbara’s father created the successful Mandrell Family Band, so it’s no surprise that many of her relatives were also in the music industry. In this photo, you may have a hard time distinguishing which one is Barbara as she poses next to her lovely sisters.

One face that you’d probably have no trouble pointing out is Dolly Parton’s. The sisters are all positioned next to the country star which shows how acclaimed they were at the time, as well.

She Met Her Husband Through Her Father’s Band

Barbara Mandrell and Kenneth Dudney Playing Pool
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Barbara’s husband, Ken Dudney, was also a musician, and he fit right in with the rest of the family. It was due to the family band that Barbara’s father started that she was able to meet her soulmate.

Her father was the one who hired Ken as a drummer for the band. That’s what we call fatherly approval! The pair fell for one another and got hitched, making Ken a true member of the family band. Judging by this photo of Ken and Barbara playing pool, the chemistry was clear to see.

She Overcame A Car Accident

Singer Barbara Mandrell
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Throughout the 1980s, Barbara maintained a charismatically suave disposition that attracted her fans like a moth drawn to light. That’s what makes it so surprising that amid her fame, she went through a tragic event. A car accident left Barbara with several fractures and abrasions, and even a concussion that impaired her speech and memory.

Despite the setback, the professional emerged after 18-months of rehabilitation looking and sounding as incredible as ever. Such an impressive recovery says something about a person’s drive and passion. Her powerful pose in this image evokes the kind of determination Barbara exuded in the face of a challenge.

She Toured With Legendary Musicians From A Young Age

The 22nd Annual GRAMMY Awards
Joan Adlen/Getty Images
Joan Adlen/Getty Images

Barbara’s career started when she was young, so she was around prominent celebrity musicians throughout her upbringing. When Barbara was just 13-years-old, she toured with The Johnny Cash Show.

Some of her fellow performers at that time included June Carter, Patsy Cline, and George Jones. With such a star-studded upbringing, it’s no wonder that Barbara took to fame with ease and grace. Just look at how comfortable and cozy she looks posing with the legendary Chuck Mangione at the Grammys.

She Hosted A Variety Show Alongside Her Sisters

Taping of
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

As we’ve mentioned, Barbara’s entire family was in the limelight. Her sisters, Louise and Irlene, even joined the country star to create the variety show Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. The fact they didn’t simply name the show “The Mandrell Sisters” is a testament to Barbara’s individual success.

If you thought your family had sibling rivalry, just imagine if one sibling was more famous than the rest! However, this photo is one of many that reveals the sisters to be amicable professionals, regardless of the show’s title.

Her Autobiography Was A New York Times Bestseller

Barbara Mandrell Portrait Session
Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Barbara’s warm smile and friendly spirit are evident in her photos, so it’s no wonder that fans were eager to learn more about the star. She told her life story in her autobiography, Get to the Heart: My Story.

The book was such a success and spent half a year on the New York Times Bestseller list! Even more impressive is that it first made it on the list just four days after being released! It’s no wonder the film version debuted seven years later.

Barbara Was Born On Christmas Day

Taping of
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Between her long and thick eyelashes, brilliantly blue eyes, sweepy blonde hair, and bright smile, there are times when Barbara looks almost angelic. To top it off, she was born on Christmas!

Barbara is the oldest of her siblings, so we can only imagine how much of a gift it must have felt to her first-time parents to welcome their adorable baby on a major holiday. Little did they know she would go on to be the biggest star in the family!

She Starred In A Movie

Barbara Mandrell and Minnie Pearl
Joan Adlen/Getty Images
Joan Adlen/Getty Images

Barbara’s sketch show alongside her sisters was so successful that it earned her a People’s Choice award and a TV Land and Golden Globe nomination! Here she is grinning at comedian Minnie Pearl, a guest on the show, while dressed in outlandish, matching attire.

The hilarious acts served to prove that Barbara wasn’t just a great singer, but that she could also act. She went on to star in the 1984 thriller Burning Rage and to guest-star in hit shows like Touched by an Angel and Baywatch.

1981 Was Her Year

Barbara Mandrell...
Adam/IMAGES/Getty Images
Adam/IMAGES/Getty Images

Barbara earned dozens of awards over the years, but 1981 stands out among the rest as her standout year. She earned a whopping eight accolades in that single year, ranging from Comedian of the Year to Instrumentalist of the Year.

1981 was also the year she won her second Entertainer of the Year award, making her the first to do so two years in a row. It’s no wonder that People magazine placed her on their 25 Most Interesting People list that year.

She’s Only 5’2″

16th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards - Backstage
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In this image, Barbara is proudly accepting yet another award while standing next to actor Sam Elliott. Though the gentlemen stands just over six feet, he towers over Barbara quite a bit, especially considering she’s likely wearing heels.

That because the mighty singer only stands at just over five feet tall! We can only imagine how itty bitty and adorable she must have been in real life! However, her voice and stage presence were far from small.

Her Nashville Mansion Is A Tourist Attraction

Photo of Barbara Mandrell
Barbara Mandrell Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Barbara Mandrell Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

There’s something effortlessly elegant about Barbara, so of course fans want to see her breathtaking home. Following in the footsteps of Elvis Presley’s Graceland and Dolly Parton’s Dollywood, investors transformed Barbara Mandrell’s former mansion into a tourist attraction.

The Mandrell’s sold the 27,000 square foot estate in 2002, and over the next eight years, it was made into a retreat. As of 2010, the magnificent home has been repurposed as an inn, music venue, record label studio, and more.

Her Father Was Her Manager

Mandrell Sisters: Irlene, Barbara and Louise
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

The entertainment industry can be a rough place, but Barbara had her father’s protection from the start. The musician not only started the band that gave Barbara and her sisters performance experience but also later become his star daughter’s manager.

Since representatives can be harsh and money-driven, being backed by someone you know has your best interest in mind is imperative. Judging by the confident and comfortable way that Barbara and her siblings perform, we would guess that their father provided plenty of support.

She’s A Multitalented Performer

Photo of Barbara MANDRELL
Beth Gwinn/Redferns/Getty Images
Beth Gwinn/Redferns/Getty Images

This image of Barbara singing evokes how seemingly effortless being onstage is for her. Since she’s been doing it for practically her whole life, we would imagine it’s second-nature for Barbara to perform in front of a crowd.

To top it off, she has a plethora of talents she’s cultivated for decades. Not only can the star sing and act, but she also knows how to play a handful of instruments. These include the banjo, accordion, and saxophone!

Barbara Pursued Music When Her Husband Joined The Navy

Six Flags Hosts
Tom Hill/WireImage/Getty Images
Tom Hill/WireImage/Getty Images

One thing that makes Barbara and her husband, Ken Dudney, such a power couple is that they both unabashedly pursued their individual interests. When Ken joined the Navy, Barbara decided it was time to move to Nashville to become a solo artist.

It was at that point that Barbara’s father became her manager, and the rest is history! Even in vintage photos like this one, you can see the gentle determination and steady confidence in the singer’s eyes.

Multiple Record Labels Wanted To Represent Her

1991 Academy of Country Music Awards
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In 1969, Barbara had kicked off her music career by recording with prominent producer Billy Sherrill. Once labels caught wind of the new talent, they competed to earn her loyalty. After receiving offers from six different labels, Barbara went with Columbia.

The bright look on Barbara’s face in this vintage photo reflects the spark that producers saw in her from a young age. Usually, musicians are competing for the attention of record labels, not the other way around!

The Start Of Her Career Was Rocky

Barbara Mandrell
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Though labels immediately saw Barbara’s potential, they began to lose interest when she didn’t climb the charts to fame right away. In the early ’70s, Barbara struggled to make it to the charts and was even dropped from Columbia Records in 1975.

Fortunately, her next record label, ABC/Dot, made up for the lost time. By the end of the decade, she was at the top of the charts with songs like “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.” In the years that followed, Barbara established herself as one of the top country singers of her time.

She Has A Signature Song

11th Annual American Music Awards
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Many consider Barbara’s hit “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” to be her signature song. Not only did it reach number one on the Billboard charts, but it also was certified gold. Perhaps the success is due to how the lyrics reflect Barbara’s authenticity.

From fighting to make it in Nashville to being one of the most successful country singers of her time, there’s something sincere in Barbara’s eyes that makes her likable. Through all the challenges, this star managed to grow from every experience.