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American country singer Barbara Mandrell scored No. 1 hits with "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed" and "Years."
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Barbara Mandrell caught the attention of country stars Chet Atkins and Joe Maphis when she was 11 years old, and toured with Patsy Cline when she was 13. Barbara and her family later formed the Mandrell Family band, which toured the country to considerable fame. She became the only female country musician to win the CMA 'Entertainer of the Year' award, twice.
Barbara Mandrell was born December 25, 1948 in Houston, Texas into a very religious Christian family to parents Irby and Mary Mandrell. Mandrell showed musical promise from a very early age. By the time she was nine years old, she was already proficient in the accordion and steel-pedal guitar. Right from the start, she had an affinity for the stage: "When I was a little girl in Texas, no more than four or five, I used to pretend I was Loretta Young. Remember the way Loretta Young made her entrance on the television show, so graceful and glamorous and controlled? I would make poor Aunt Thelma sit and watch me do my big entrance. I'd find one of Momma's dresses and I'd put on a show and sing. And Aunt Thelma would sit patiently through it."
Mandrell's father, Irby, was her biggest fan and musical mentor. He later became her manager as well and helped her get her first jobs, but she recalled that he was never demanding, only encouraging and loving. "Some people call him a stage father ... He wasn't a stage father. He was a father who raised his children to succeed. Our business just happened to be music."
In 1960, at the tender age of eleven, Barbara Mandrell was discovered by Joe Maphis and became part of his show in Las Vegas. Mandrell was so good on the steel guitar that her gig in Vegas led to an invitation—at age 12—to tour with Johnny Cash, where she met Patsy Cline and other musical greats of the era, all of whom were incredibly impressed by her talent and her pluck at such a young age. "When we started to play instruments, Daddy said, 'Don't ever let anybody say 'You pick good for a girl.' As far as I knew, there was only one woman in country music who played steel guitar, Marion Hall, and the saxophone always had a reputation as a kind of man's instrument, but those were the two instruments I played when I went to Las Vegas at the age of eleven. Later I picked up the Dobro and the banjo, two other instruments very few women played."
After the tour, Irby formed the Mandrell Family Band, which featured Barbara on pedal steel and saxophone. Her two sisters, Irlene and Louise, sang backup, with Irby on guitar and lead vocals and mother Mary Ellen on bass. Barbara soon fell hard for Ken Dudney, the drummer of the band, but he was 21 and she was fourteen, which created quite a scandal. Her parents separated the young couple and prohibited them from even seeing one another; Barbara was not able to see Dudney again until many years later, when he returned from fighting in Vietnam.
With the love of her life fighting overseas, Barbara put all of her attention and effort into the band.
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When it comes to singing about struggle and emotion, there are few genres that match the intensity of country music. Country music was born from musicians that were brave enough to wear their hearts on their sleeves from happiness to heartache. Because of country icons like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Jimmie Rodgers, this southern, soulful genre has grown to become loved by many. Browse through the legends that established country music as the popular genre that it is today.
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