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

Where They Went

The reality is that after being such a big name in the 80s, the Mandrell Sisters, like many other musical acts, simply fell off the radar. But why exactly did this happen? It seems like the sisters finally have the answer…

Brilliant Barbara

The one Mandrell sister that had the most success initially was Barbara. In 1969, she released her first single “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” As a result of her early success, she got her own variety show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. The show was an instant hit, featuring musical guests and a variety of comedy skits. Also, Mandrell used the gospel endings to various episode to create a compilation album, titled He Set My Life To Music.

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Forbidden Love

Eventually, Irby Mandrell, the sisters’ father, founded the Mandrell Family Band. It consisted of Barbara, Louise, Irlene, Irby, and mother Mary Ellen, as well as a drummer by the name of Ken Dudney. Despite Barbara only being 14 at the time, 21-year-old Ken fell head over heels for her. However, her parents were completely against the idea and separated them before they got too serious. However, Barbara and Ken would eventually get back together when they got a little older…

Faking It

Sister Louise felt like she was not true to herself during the early stages of her career. She was being told to market herself in a certain way. “I judged everything I did by what I thought Barbara and my family would like, not by my standards,” she said. “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.” But what happened next for Louise?

Louise’s New Style

Once the variety show came to an end, Louise made a whole new image for herself. In an attempt to have a successful solo career, Louise chose to be far less conservative with her look. The cover of he debut album Close Up was a fine example of this. Her husband, R.C. Bannon, was deeply surprised. “Miniskirts and tight leather pants are what I feel most comfortable in,” Louise said. “I’m one of those Christians the Romans would have thrown to the lions.”

Sharpshooter Irlene

Sister Irlene, on the other hand, was always very open about her beliefs and is an expressive individual. Although she is, like her sisters, a very talented singer and actress, she also loves to hunt. Throughout her life, Irlene has traveled far and wide looking for the biggest catch, and she is skilled with a variety of firearms. The “Irlene Mandrell Celebrity Shoot” is a charity event in service of Boy Scouts of America and Wish Upon a Star, Inc.

Multiple Proposals

As previously mentioned, Barbara and drummer Ken fell in love at a very young age, much to her parents’ dismay. Despite the fact that they separated them early on, they only had their eyes on each other throughout the years. As soon as he had the chance, Ken proposed to Barbara. However, she ended up turning him down. This is apparently because she wanted to graduate from high school beforehand. But Ken didn’t give up, and he kept on proposing…

Shrouded In Controversy

Ever since she started her solo career, Barbara Mandrell has always done things her way. This was clearer than ever when she released her breakthrough single, “The Midnight Oil.” Country music is renowned for having some of the most emotionally powerful lyrics behind the tunes, with many songs revolving around love and heartbreaks. Barbara’s single was the first time that a country song was written about a woman who had cheated on her man, rather than the other way round.

Unpopular Start

Before her success with the controversial “The Midnight Oil,” Barbara struggled to get off the ground with her first country songs. Her first music experience with her first record label, Columbia Records, was unsuccessful, to say the very least. Her first producer, Billy Sherrill released the book How Nashville Became a Music City. In the book, Sherill claimed that Columbia Records interrogated him as to why he had so much faith in Mandrell, who wasn’t selling records at first.

Barbara’s Net Worth

There is no denying that all of the Mandrell sisters have been successful in their own rights, even from an early age. However, Barbara is clearly the most successful and most popular out of all of them. Not only has she had the most hit albums, but her net worth stands at a staggering $45 million. This is over four times bigger than Louise and Irlene’s combined net worth of $10 million. When you think of the Mandrells, the first person you think of is Barbara.

Three Times A Bride

Although the sisters have a lot in common, there is one key detail that separates Irlene from the rest of the Mandrells. The idea of a long-lasting marriage isn’t part of Irlene’s vocabulary. She has been married three times, having first tied the knot with Rick Boyer from 1978-1992, who she had two kids with. Then, in 1994, she married Rob Pincus, who she had another child with. However, that only lasted for ten years. Since 2015, she has been married to Patrick Holt.

Barbara’s Menagerie

Barbara has always been an animal lover, and though she owns a number of houses, she had one in particular that she referred to in the French, ‘Maison d’Animaux’ or ‘Animal House’ in English. At the time, she was living with a large number of pets, which included two dogs and four cats, as well as a cockatoo. Beyond her pets, she also encouraged wild animals to visit her garden, encouraging birds to visit, in addition to local squirrels, chipmunks, and even turtles.

Becoming Their Rock

Family has always had a very strong pull on Barbara, which isn’t surprising considering she sang with her sisters for years. She and her husband Ken have three children together. There’s Jaime, Nathaniel, and Kenneth. It was therefore heartbreaking for the couple that their son Kenneth struggled with alcoholism for an extended period. It helped that he had so much support from his parents, as he was able to be rehabilitated. He now manages his wife’s singing career.

In Defense Of Barbara

As any celebrity can tell you, once you become famous, people will begin to share all manner of rumors. Rumors about Barbra got so bad that her sister Louise eventually wrote a book in order to set the record straight. She once said to 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.”

Natural Intelligence

Barbara Mandrell may have been a musical prodigy even as a child, but she doesn’t actually believe that it says anything about her intelligence. Of course, it could just be Barbara’s humility, as having the musical instinct that she has is a gift unto itself, but she doesn’t consider her success to be related to being particularly brainy. Barbara has even gone so far as to say, “I might not be very smart, but I surround myself with smart people.”

Choosing To Be Housebound

Barbara Mandrell began her career at such a young age, that as she hit early her early adulthood, she was ready for a break. After her marriage to Ken Dudney, Mandrell thought she would retire from music and pass her time as a housewife, in order to stay home and take care of their three children. Music was in Barbara’s blood, however, and as much as she wanted to say goodbye, she couldn’t stay away from the stage.

Considering The Heartbreak

After Barbara gave birth to her second child, Jaime, she didn’t become pregnant again for ten years. However, things didn’t exactly go smoothly. At some point during the pregnancy, Barbara wasn’t feeling right and believed she might have miscarried. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to see a doctor until the next 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 At The Alter

Barbara Mandrell may have a long-lasting, successful relationship with her husband Ken Dudney, who she married in 1966, but her sister Louise hasn’t been so lucky. In fact, Louise has been married a grand total of four times as it seems it took her a few tries to get it right. She tied the knot with her fourth husband, John Haywood, in 1993, after divorcing Ronald Shaw in 1973, Gary Lamar Buck in 1978, and R.C. Bannon in 1991. Barbara is happy her sister is finally happy.

Encased In Glass

Barbara’s old home in White Creeks, Tennessee has lived on even after the Mandrells moved away. Their former home happens to be the largest log cabin in the world, and since their departure, it has become a museum. Barbara named the 20 room mansion ‘Fontanel.’ In addition to its sheer size, the house also comes with a total of 13 bathrooms, and plus an incredible indoor pool. Fontanel is still open to visitors, who can come by most days throughout the year.

Getting Into Mischief

Though Barbara has maintained a rather clean-cut image, there are some who tell stories that show off her mischievous side. Dan Morgan, who was a stage manager for over 50 years, published a memoir in 2015 that looked back on his career. In one of his anecdotes, he shared that when working with Peter Jennings, who had been a news anchor, Jennings had a story about Barbara. Morgan shared, “He was talking about how [singer] Barbara Mandrell was ‘naughty.’ He had a look like the Cheshire cat.”

A Higher Power

It’s not often that couples in the public eye manage to stay together for the better part of their lifetimes. Barbara and her husband Ken are definitely an exception, having been married for over 50 years. Many people want to know what their secret is, but Barbara only credits their faith, saying it’s “…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

Since both her parents were musicians, music was a way of life in Barbara’s family. Since Barbara was the firstborn of all her siblings, she was the first one to learn how to read music. She could play accordion well while her sisters were still toddlers. By age 9, she had not only mastered the accordion, but also the steel-pedal guitar. She was so virtuosic that she played with country guitarist Joe Maphis at age 11, and with Johnny Cash at age 12.

Barbara Believes In A Three-Way Marriage

Barbara Mandrell believes marriage is ideal not between two, but between three. This news probably makes your mouth hang agape, but you can go ahead and shut it, as it is not in the way you think. When she was asked by journalists at The Boot about advising her son when it comes to matrimony, she responded, “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.”

The First Artist To Win “Entertainer Of The Year” Twice

When it comes to country music, the Country Music Association’s awards ceremony is the big red-carpet event of the year. Arguably, the biggest award is the Entertainer of the Year award, even more prestigious than the Male or Female Vocalist of the Year awards. When the honor started getting awarded in 1967, many big names like Johnny Cash and John Denver won. In 1980 and 1981, Barbara Mandrell made history by being the first to win the honor two years in a row.

Dolly Parton: Barbara Is A Star

Dolly Parton is a country music legend. In fact, she has won more awards than any other female country musician ever! Dolly was such good friends with Barbara that she was asked to be the first guest on Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. At Barbara’s Country Music Hall Of Fame induction, Dolly sang praises, saying,”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”

Patsy Cline was a huge star who started out in the Nashville country world and eventually transitioned to being a pop star who had mainstream success. Sadly, she passed away at age 30 when her private plane crashed. Now Patsy is regarded as a legend in country music. While she was alive, she had performed with Barbara when Mandrell was still a young girl and commented that she was “a 13-year-old blonde doll who plays the steel guitar out of this world!”

Barbara’s Favorite Hobby

In 1997, Barbara decided to take it easy, and retire from the music business. However, her creative juices were flowing, so she looked for something else to channel her energy into. She chose something totally different vibe from the high-energy screaming of fans and loudspeakers. Instead, she headed outdoors, to focus on gardening. Mandrell could spend a whole work day and more in her garden, and even took flowers inside to make arrangements. They were so nice that her son Matt used her bouquets at his wedding reception.

Autobiography And A Movie

In 1984, Barbara went through a devastating automobile accident. As she dwelled in the pain of it all, she reflected on her life. Together with a ghostwriter, she decided to put these reflections into an autobiography, called Get to the Heart: My Story. It was hugely successful and was on the New York Times bestseller list for multiple months in a row. It was so popular, CBS turned it into a movie starring Maureen McCormick as Barbara, and her real-life daughter Jaime as her sister Irlene.

Many Musicians Gave Barbara Advice

Since Barbara was a precocious neophyte when she started out as an entertainer, she was able to hobnob with the musical elite from her pre-teens. This had a lucky consequence- the experienced musicians would impart her with insider knowledge and pointed advice. “I was working with Red Foley, Tex Ritter, Jimmy Dickens and all of them,” Mandrell said, and since she, “was a child, they were so wonderful to give [her] such great advice, so all of them were [her] inspiration.”

Barbara’s True Inspiration

Barbra had one person who deeply inspired her musically more than the rest. This was Bakersfield sound pioneer Norm Hamlet. “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 after that, 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

Although she had the good luck of being born into a musical family, Barbara was truly still a prodigy. Amazingly, she learned to play seven instruments expertly in no time! Barbara played pedal steel guitar, saxophone, banjo, accordion, alto saxophone, dobro, and bass. Also, you can consider the count even higher than seven if you consider vocals, as well as her proficiency with the mandolin and guitar. Not only did she have musical ability, but also a stage presence to make it entertaining.

Barbara Is A Fan Of American Idol

She might have been a television singing sensation herself, but Barbara Mandrell is a fan of a recent music television show – American Idol.  The eldest Mandrell sister was asked by CMT about how she feels about the various music reality shows. 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

As a dancer on Dancing With The Stars, Julianne Hough went from no name to international star. Due to her success on the show, she expanded her influence into film and country music as well. She certainly has caught Barbara’s eye. “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,” she told the Boot.

Barbara’s Near Death Experience

Barbara went through a life altering experience at the peak of her popularity. On September 11, 1984, Barbara was hit head on by a teenage driver. Barbara suffered from multiple leg fractures and a concussion, which led to temporary memory loss and speech difficulties. The driver, Mark White, died in the accident. She was with her kids in the car and had told them to put their seat belts on only moments before the crash. She went through a year and a half of rehab before performing again.

On The Mend

However, her rehab would prove to be a challenging period for Barbara. It was during this time that she was unable to work. This meant that she had to collect insurance in order to cover medical bills as well as making sure her band was paid. It was an extremely touchy situation, especially because she was forced to file a lawsuit against the family of Mark White. So what did she decide to do in the end?

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Wrong Impressions

Barbara was adamant that she didn’t want any money from White’s family and told her attorneys to share with them her thoughts on the matter. She was simply doing what she needed to in order to cover her medical bills. However, the headlines made it out as if Barbara was suing the family of the son they had lost. However, before the case was even put on trial, the insurance company ultimately, filed for bankruptcy. Barbara was in a terrible position.

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It’s In The Blood

They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And that couldn’t have been truer as far as Barbara’s daughter was concerned, Jaime. She was the Miss Tennesse Teen USA in 1993 and all reached the semifinals of Miss Teen USA in the same year. Three years later, Jaime was also crowned Miss Golden Globe. This was shortly followed by Jaime’s opportunity to play her aunt Irlene in the biopic Get To The Heart – The Barbara Mandrell Story.

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TV Queen

Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters wasn’t the only show that Barbara was involved with during her career. In 1984, just before her car accident, she starred in the TV movie Burning Rage, which also starred Tom Wopat. However, that wasn’t all. Barbara also made guest appearances on a long list of TV shows. These included: Touched By An AngelEmpty NestDiagnosis: MurderDr. Quinn, Medicine WomanThe CommishBaywatchWalker, Texas Ranger, and Rockford Files. This only demonstrated further just how talented she was.

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Decline in Popularity

Barbara Mandrell suffered physically, but the accident had an effect beyond the injuries to her body. Since she was unable to work during her rehab, she needed to collect from insurance to pay her medical bills. Under Tennessee law, she had to file a lawsuit against the deceased driver to collect from insurance. The fans only saw the headlines and did not consider the formality. Her record sales and ticket sales nosedived due to the incident.

Change In Personality

The accident had a widespread effect on Barbara. Following the car wreck, Barbara also began feeling mentally affected by the trauma. For one, she believes that the accident caused a change in her personality. “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,” she told CBN in an interview. In addition, Barbara became quite prone to fits of rage and occasional confusion.

The Road To Recovery

Barbara’s physical injuries from the crash significantly slowed down her life. Her recovery took much longer than she ever could have imagined. She told CMT, “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.”

Keeping The Family Business Alive

With his famous mother and aunts crushing it in the music business, sadly, Barbara’s son Kenneth did not hold onto the family tradition. However, he did not stray too far from his rhythmic relatives. While Kenneth spends his days cooking up everything delicious as a professional chef, he comes home each night to a musician. His wife, Christy Sutherland, is a Christian and country music singer. Kenneth also works as her tour and business manager.

Barbara Thought TV Was A Death Sentence

The Mandrells would become stars due to their beautiful voices.  They never figured that television would help elevate their stardom. Just as they were becoming stars, the country-singing sisters were approached by TV producers Sid and Marty Krofft. However, she was against the move. Barbara said, “”My father was in agreement with me, I would never do a network television show. We thought that was sudden death to a recording artist.”

The Great Outdoors

Irlene’s love of hunting goes far beyond shooting a deer or being a skilled shooter. She is active in a variety of outdoors organizations which promote open, yet safe hunting. She has been actively involved in groups such as Buckmasters, Safari Club International, Quail Unlimited, and the National Wild Turkey Federation. In addition, there is a good chance you will find her at the Sportsman Against Hunger banquet.  She also hosted “Irlene Mandrell Straight Shooter,” a segment on the outdoors-themd PBS show Tennessee’s Wildside.

Drawing The Curtain Herself

After decades of performing at other people’s theaters and concert halls, Louise had an idea – she would open her own theater. The Louise Mandrell Theater opened on September 12, 1997, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The 1,400 seat theater became a massive hit in the Smokey Mountains.  Louise joined in on every performance at her theater which meant she sang along with numerous musical styles. She sold the theater after a final sold-out show on New Year Eve 2005.

It’s All About The Bass

In one of her first interviews after stepping away from the spotlight, Barbara Mandrell offered up her opinion on country music today. Back when she was in the middle of being a country superstar, Barbara was frequently criticized for using too much bass in her songs, and having too much production in her shows. Fortunately for Barbara, she is seeing more of that in today’s country music. She said, “I love the bass, and now they’re throwing it down. It’s great.”

What Barbara Misses Most

Retirement is a difficult decision for anyone. There are so many things to miss about the daily grind. For a singer like Barbara, we assume that she would miss the fans and the fame and the money most during retirement. Not Barbara. The thing she misses the most is the spotlight – literally the powerful light that shined on her. 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 The Show

It’s not everyday that you get to work with your sisters. Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters not only was a successful variety show, but also an opportunity for the three girls to work together. Barbara claims that it was not the special guests that made the show special, but working every day with her sisters. She told CMT, “My favorite memory is working with Louise and Irlene. That’s the only time the three of us have worked together.”

Why The Show Went Off-Air

With no Netflix or streaming services around, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters was an incredibly successful network variety show. It brought in more than 40 million viewers per week all in the days before cable. The Mandrell sisters shocked 40 million people when the show was cancelled after two seasons. Interestingly, the network did not pull the plug on the show. It was Barbara’s decision. It put too much stress on her voice when paired with her solo career.

Barbara No Longer Performs In Public

Since retiring from performing in 1997, Barbara rarely performs in public anymore. She wanted to spend her time with her family. After retiring, Barbara sold all of her musical instruments and equipment. Barbara told The Boot, “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.”