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Barbara Mandrell: Sweetness Through Suffering

Share This article SCOTT ROSS (reporting): There are few performers in the entertainment industry who have attained the across-the-board celebrity as Barbara Mandrell. With a career spanning nearly four decades, she achieved legendary status in country music and tremendous crossover appeal in pop music and television. By the time she retired in 1997, she had done it all--with great success. She had recorded over 30 albums with a collection of hits and starred in her own top-rated variety show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. She has won more than 75 major awards, including the very coveted Entertainer of the Year from the Country Music Association two years running. From 1982 through 1987, she was awarded the Favorite All-around Female Entertainer by the People's Choice Awards, a testament to her universal appeal. That is not too shabby for a Pentecostal girl born in Houston on Christmas Day. By the time Barbara was 11, she was a child prodigy on the steel guitar. As the years went by, she not only developed a fabulous singing voice, but the lady could play just about any instrument in the band--including an accordion and a banjo.

SCOTT ROSS: Barbara, You've been involved in music, entertainment, all of it for--what?---111 years. You look great for your age.

BARBARA MANDRELL: You are so kind, or you need glasses. I think it was 37 years that I did music.


BARBARA MANDRELL: Wasn't that right, Ken? [Barbara asks her husband]. When I retired from my music November 1997, it had been 37 years.

SCOTT ROSS: And you've been married for how long?


SCOTT ROSS: You don't know?

BARBARA MANDRELL: 33? 32? 34? Ah, 34 years!

SCOTT ROSS: Nedra and I have been married 34 years.


SCOTT ROSS: But you look better than I do.

BARBARA MANDRELL: That's a matter of opinion.

SCOTT ROSS: Where did you meet?

Barbara Mandrell as a little girlBARBARA MANDRELL: My daddy hired Ken Dudney to be our drummer. It was my daddy's band, called the Mandrell Family Band. I was 14. He was smart enough to be kind and polite but cool. When I fell, I fell hard. We went together all through high school.

SCOTT ROSS: Did he propose to you?


SCOTT ROSS: You mean, you made him beg or what?

BARBARA MANDRELL: No, we were very much in love, and we very much wanted to get married. I very much had to graduate from high school first.

SCOTT ROSS: Part of the story of show business is the tragic side of so many marriages that are sacrificed on the altar of entertainment. How have you guys held it together for 34 years?

BARBARA MANDRELL: 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. But a marriage is three of us.

SCOTT ROSS: That's right. Jesus makes you one, and then somehow it's the three of you.


SCOTT ROSS (reporting): If you needed a word to describe Barbara Mandrell, committed would be a good one. She has not only been committed to excellence in performing, but she has also remained committed to her first love, Christ, and her second love, Ken. Fame didn't destroy these relationships. In fact, these are the ones that sustain her. These are the treasures that fame cannot buy.

SCOTT ROSS: You don't wrestle with that? Some people have to perform. It's their obsession; they are possessed by it; it's their whole life; it's their end all. Obviously, you have some balance.


SCOTT ROSS: You are a wife among that --

BARBARA MANDRELL: -- was worried about that. I was worried because I had always heard, 'That's all you have ever known. You will never be able to give up, most of all, the audience and the applause.' I treasure what I was given, the moments with the most wonderful people that gave me the opportunity in life to be able to retire from my music. But I think, without a doubt, you'll know what I am saying, not just me, but Ken and I. We talked and talked and talked. We prayed and prayed and prayed. I kept wondering when, and when the time came, it was immediate. It came so fast. And God, He doesn't steer us wrong.


Barbara MandrellBARBARA MANDRELL: It was not a mistake. I did not make a mistake. I don't mean to sound like I'm not so grateful. I am so grateful, but God gives me wonderful things, like right now, the chance to get to visit with you and all your viewers. That is the exciting thing: I don't know what God has given me for tomorrow. That's what I loved about show business, no two days were alike. It's an exciting life. I don't know where God is leading us. I just know that He opens doors and He closes the doors, and it is always the best for us.

SCOTT ROSS: Right. There is a line from years ago that says that if you follow Jesus, all your adventure needs are met.


SCOTT ROSS (reporting): When you step back and look at Barbara Mandrell, the person, you find a women with a heart of gold and steel in her back. It would be easy to envy parts of her life--but not all of it.

SCOTT ROSS: Moving on to something else, the numbers 9-1-1, 9-11, have particular significance in your life. Right now, for American, September 11, 2001, has particular significance, but 9-1-1 was something significant in your life years ago.

BARBARA MANDRELL: 1984 September 11.


BARBARA MANDRELL: My oldest two children were young then and I was driving. We were hit head-on. The experts at the scene and the experts at the hospital, the professionals, medical personnel, and law enforcement--all of them said we would have all been dead. No way we could have lived through that. Because my Father knows everything, He gave us the chance to live through it.

SCOTT ROSS: And the other driver?

BARBARA MANDRELL: He was killed.

SCOTT ROSS: Whoa. That left its mark on you, didn't it? Not just physically, but mentally and spiritually?

Barbara Mandrell in a car safety adBARBARA MANDRELL: Yes, it did. I had a really serious head injury. I don't know the meaning of any of this. I don't know the whys and wherefores. I am just sharing with you. It seems to me that unless you or someone very close to you has had a bad head injury, you really can't fathom it. You have no concept of what it is all about. It was so difficult for my whole family, not just me.

SCOTT ROSS: A change of personality?

BARBARA MANDRELL: Oh, totally. 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.'

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): Barbara went through months of an agonizing recovery. The brain injury left her confused, agitated, prone to bouts of ecstasy and rage. Through it all, the love of her family and her Heavenly Father sustained her. As God so often does, out of this tragedy came new life.

SCOTT ROSS: After the trauma of this car accident, you wanted to have a child?

BARBARA MANDRELL: The wreck was, of course, September 11. It was right before Christmas in Aspen, Colorado, that finally Ken and I were together as man and wife again. When we went back home, I went to see my doctor because I had shared with Ken, "I can't even take care of myself. I can't eat and I can't walk. How could I take care of a baby? We better go back and visit the doctor.' So I went back and he said,'It's either one of two things. You are either pregnant, or you have a tumor.' When the nurse came back in with the results, the doctor says, 'It is positive on both.'

SCOTT ROSS: Good grief.

BARBARA MANDRELL: I did have a cesarean section with all three of mine, but with Nathan, he was the only one that I had what they call a 'threatened miscarriage.' We prayed and prayed in that hospital, because we couldn't get ultrasound until the next morning. 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. God had him safe and sound. He is a miracle. He is so healthy, so perfect, and God has really, really blessed us. I've told him over and over again, 'Nathan, I thank God so much for you. You are my joy. You make me so happy.'

SCOTT ROSS: You are my miracle hockey player.

BARBARA MANDRELL: A good hockey player, a really good hockey player.

the Barbara Mandrell familySCOTT ROSS (reporting): There are few people who have the perspective that when we endure suffering sweetness comes. This is something that Barbara Mandrell knows well. It is the essence of her life story. She is quick to point out that not all of life is an endless parade of accolades. There is pain. But what she knows is that through it all, our Father in Heaven is always there to love and comfort.

BARBARA MANDRELL: I realize we're not promised tomorrow. Believe me, I realize that. But if God blesses me and lets me stay, I love my life so much, it is such a good life. I am eager to throw myself at His feet, but I don't want to get on the first busload that is going. I love my life. I am really happy. For the next approximately three years, I have got Nathan to take care of. I know that once he graduates from high school, he will be off doing whatever it is he is going to be doing--probably playing ice hockey. I am loving being Momma. I really, really am. I don't know what the future holds, but I know that God holds tomorrow, so it is exciting. Even when I have hard things happen, He loves me so big, so much. I come through it and I grow from it, because He has got me. He is on the throne. That is why I'm not worried. I am not saying that I'm happy about what's going on right now in our nation, but I am at peace and I am comforted because I know that He's on the throne. That is good enough for me.

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Cheryl Wilcox Headshot

Cheryl Wilcox, Coordinating Producer, The 700 Club. I hail from a Jesus loving SoCal surf family 🏄🏻‍♀️. I’m the mother of two brilliant, business owning daughters. My heroes are the Great Emancipators and Corrie Ten Boom 🇳🇱. I scull 🚣🏻‍♀️ for life balance, (it’s a little easier than surfing) and I’m passionate about organic food 🥗 and gardening. Since 1989, I’ve produced feature stories 🎬 for CBN. In my free time I enjoy reading about the lives of Saints – like Julian of Norwich🇬🇧. I’m baptized Anglican. Christ is King! 💫