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Country Music Icon Barbara Mandrell Talks God’s Plan, Her Retirement and ‘Precious Memories’ Digital Release (EXCLUSIVE)

Download Barbara's digital album — out March 15th!

For country music fans, the celebration of Women’s History Month just got even sweeter with the release of Barbara Mandrell ‘s Precious Memories: 20 Hymns & Gospel Classics. The iconic collection marks its 35th anniversary this year and it is being released digitally for the first time via Gaither Music Group.

“I’m really excited about it,” Barbara Mandrell tells Woman’s World in an exclusive interview. “I’m hopeful that not only people like me who grew up on these songs will enjoy them, but also new people that are hearing them for the first time because these are absolute classics. They are beautiful pieces of music and powerful words about our Lord.”

Barbara Mandrell paves the way for women in Country music

Prior to retiring in 1997, Barbara had established herself as country music’s most successful female artist, paving the way for today’s country music women. The Texas native began performing as a child and was lauded not only for her rich, smokey voice, but also her proficiency on multiple instruments.

She scored her first chart hit in 1969 and then dominated the country airwaves over the next two decades with hits like “The Midnight Oil,” “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right,” “Standing Room Only,” “Years” and “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.”

Barbara’s numerous accolades include winning the Favorite Country Female Artist award at the 1983 American Music Awards and Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1980 and 1981 — the first artist to do so in consecutive years.

Barbara Mandrell at the 1983 American Music Awards on January 17, 1983
Barbara Mandrell at the 1983 American Music Awards where she won the Favorite Country Female Artist awardGetty/Ralph Dominguez/MediaPunch

She hosted her own highly rated NBC variety show featuring her talented sisters Louise and Irlene. Her autobiography Get to the Heart: The Barbara Mandrell Story was a New York Times best-seller. She has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for 50 years.

Precious Memories: 20 Hymns & Gospel Classics was originally released in 1989 as a two-record collection. Produced by legendary Nashville publisher/producer Tom Collins, the project contains such gospel classics as “I Love to Tell the Story,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Peace in the Valley,” “Softly and Tenderly,” “Just a Little Talk with Jesus,” “Blessed Assurance” and “Precious Memories.”

“The tracks are really great because those musicians were great,” she says of recording with Nashville’s elite session players. “These are the songs I was raised on so they are special, really special, and they never lose their power to me to hear them or sing them.”

Reba (left), Loretta Lynn (left middle), Barbara (right middle) and Tanya Tucker (right) always cheer each other on and set an example for the future women in Country
Reba (left), Loretta Lynn (left middle), Barbara (right middle) and Tanya Tucker (right) have always cheered each other on and set an example for women in Country music@barbaramandrellmusic

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Barbara Mandrell enjoys life in retirement

During her days in the music business, it was hard to find time to indulge in hobbies. So while many celebrities retire from the entertainment industry and keep returning for additional “farewell” tours, when Barbara walked away from show business, she truly retired and began enjoying life with her husband of 56 years Ken and their three children.

With her husband, Ken have been married for over 56 years
Barbara and her husband, Ken have been married for over 56 years@barbaramandrellmusic

These days she relishes her free time and just enjoys simple pleasures. “When I retired, I started gardening. I loved it,” she says. “Our kids also grew up with us being campers and I love going camping. I love television and when I’m at home whether I’m watching it or not, I keep it on 24/7. I know a lot of people think that’s terrible, but I don’t care. I love it,” she says with a laugh. “I’ll watch anything, but particularly SEAL Team, Blue Bloods, Life Below Zero: The Next Generation and First Alaskans. There are lots of shows I love!”

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One of her other favorite pastimes is walking her dogs, two little Maltipoos, Molly May and Lucy Lou. “I’ll take my two little dogs and put them in their little baby stroller, the dog stroller,” she says, and I’ll just stroll them around my street a little bit. They are half Maltese and half Poodle and are so cute!”

Molly May and Lucy Lou
Barbara Mandrell’s dogs, Molly May and Lucy Lou

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Relying on faith through life’s difficult moments

But Barbara Mandrell’s life has been a mix of highs and lows. In 1984, she and her two older children were in a horrific accident when another driver crossed the line and hit them head on. Barbara was left with head injuries and a broken leg and ankle.

Many thought she’d never perform again. “It was a really, really, really hard time. I had to be off work for 18 months. I thought I never would come back, but Minnie Pearl encouraged me to return,” she recalls of the Grand Ole Opry star.

Barbara’s husband and parents were also supportive during her lengthy recovery. “My dad said, ‘When you are ready to retire, then you retire. Then do it, but don’t let being in a car crash where somebody hits you, don’t let something like that dictate what you do.’  I’m just grateful that God brought me out of that and our children out of that. That was the hardest and certainly losing my daddy. Saying goodbye to him and him going on to heaven was so hard.”

With her sisters Irene (left) and Louise (right) and their father, Irby
Barbara Mandrell with her sisters Irene (left) and Louise (right) and their father, Irby@barbaramandrellmusic

Her mother Mary is still living, but her father and manager, Irby passed away in 2009 at age 84. “I’m very grateful God gave me Mary and Irby as my parents,” she says, noting they greatly influenced her faith. “I got saved when I was 10 years old.  That’s when I realized my salvation was through Jesus Christ. I think all of our parents influence us and for that I’m very grateful.”

God’s plans are always for our good

Barbara Mandrell says her faith has guided all her decisions — including her retirement. “When you make decisions, you better ask God to influence you, to show you what to do. My husband Ken and I are in agreement on that,” she says.

“I started thinking, ‘I want to retire. It’s time. I want to retire when I’m still in my 40’s.’ So Ken and I prayed about it and talked about it and prayed about it and the answer came. God gave me the answer — It was very fast and right on the nose,” Barbara says. “Everything God does is for our own good, and I have never had one second that I regretted retiring because it was God taking me there. I’ve really enjoyed it and  the fans are the ones that gave me a chance to —after almost 40 years of work — to be able to just be a normal person.”

These days as she looks back on her life and career, Barbara exudes gratitude. “I can’t think of anything that my heart desired that God and the fans didn’t give me,” she says. They gave me everything I wanted and I’m such a blessed person to have had the chance to entertain them. That’s what I wanted to do was make people happy and entertain them and I feel so satisfied.”

Purchase Barbara Mandrell’s Precious Memories: 20 Hymns & Gospel Classics CD or listen digitally here:

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