Barbara Mandrell returns to the Grand Ole Opry for its 50th anniversary

Country Music Hall of Famer and Grammy winner Barbara Mandrell retired from music more than two decades ago, but the The Grand Ole Opry still feels like home to her.

Mandrell, 73, made a rare public appearance Saturday night (July 30) at the Opry to celebrate her 50th anniversary as a member of the Opry.

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“Here we are again at home,” Mandrell said Associated Press in an interview backstage at the Opry House before the long-running radio and television program. “Fifty years. Not everyone gets that blessing.”

Born in Texas and raised in California, Mandrell was only 23 when she joined in July 1972. But she was already a seasoned entertainer when she came to Nashville after her teenage years were spent playing steel guitar and performing regularly on the California country television program Town hall party.

During his decades-long career, the actor, multi-instrumentalist and singer turned millions of fans on to country music in the 70s and 80s, not only through his popular TV show Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sistersbut also through hits like “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” “If Loving You is Wrong (I Don’t Want to be Right)” and “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.”

She became the first country artist to receive entertainer of the year awards from the Country Music Association, crossing over with R&B covers and bringing glamor and showmanship to the genre. Her performances were a showcase for her musicality, whether singing at the top, playing pedal steel, banjo or saxophone.

“It’s called show business. You’ve got to show them something,” Mandrell said. “Otherwise they could be sitting at home listening to your recordings or listening to you on the radio. You’ve got to give them something to entertain them.”

Along with his sisters Louise and Irlene, Mandrell used the power of television to bring new ears to country music as well as gospel music. Her musical guests were a mix of R&B, pop and country artists.

“So many people would say things like, ‘I never listened to country music, but now, boy, I watch every Saturday night and I love it,'” Mandrell said.

On this Saturday night, Mandrell was still a champion of country music. Before the show began, Mandrell watched Carrie Underwood from the sidestage as Underwood did her soundcheck of “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” and stopped to give her a hug and greet Underwood’s band members.

Underwood said Mandrell’s voice was always there when he was growing up.

“She has been such an inspiration to me and so many others who stand on the shoulders of great female artists like her,” Underwood told the Opry audience.

During the Opry show, Mandrell enthusiastically applauded the all-female artist lineup, including CeCe Winans, Linda Davis and Suzy Bogguss, as they performed her hits.

“I already feel on top of the world. I feel the deepest gratitude and excitement because I’m such a huge fan of these ladies,” Mandrell said.

From his seat in the middle of the crowd, Mandrell waved and kissed his fans, who took pictures of the country star.

Mandrell has not played music or sung – other than in church – since her retirement in 1997. Her last ever concert was held at the Opry House and made into a television special called, Barbara Mandrell and the Do-Rites: The Last Dance.

Dressed smartly in a pink pantsuit and surrounded on stage by 50 dozen lavender-colored roses bought by her fans, Mandrell said another farewell from the same Opry stage 25 years later.

“I picked my home to do my last performance at, and this was it,” Mandrell said. “God bless you!” she told fans before walking off stage into the shadows.

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