There have been several very talented families in the history of Country Music, but only a few could come close to the pure talent of the Mandrell Sisters.
In the early 1980s, Barbara landed a contract with NBC for a variety series, and it was a boon to the entire Mandrell clan. Her sisters, Louise and Irlene, became her instant co-stars. Louise’s husband, R.C. Bannon, was even hired as the music coordinator. Millions enjoyed watching the TV variety show ‘Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters.’
After two years of modest rating success, the popular TV show came to an end—to the relief of the sisters. “Irlene and I were tired, and Barbara was exhausted,” Louise recalled. The strain on Barbara’s voice was becoming too much too. “It was awful.”
And just like many other musical acts, the Mandrell Sisters, simply fell off the radar. Let’s take a look back at the trio’s fame and success.
Barbara Ann Mandrell
Barbara Mandrell is the eldest daughter of the musical family born on a Christmas day in 1948. Both her father, Irby, and her mother, Mary Ellen, had been singers in their day.
Barbara had been in the spotlight ever since she was a young child, thanks to her ability to read music and to play steel guitar. Her father once took her to a music trade convention in Chicago, where she caught the attention of RCA Records producer and musician Chet Atkins. Shortly after, Barbara started touring with George Jones, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash, and George Jones; she was just 13 years old then.
In 1971, she finally released her first album, “Treat Him Right.” The album peaked at the top 50 on the country charts. Thanks to songs such as “Playing Around With Love” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now) that charted well. The next few years proved to be the true breakout for Barbara.
Thelma Louise Mandrell
Louise pursued her career in music at 15, when she joined Barbara’s band, the Do-Rites. Louise was the bass and fiddle player. Later on, she left the band to pursue a solo career and started singing duets with her husband R.C. Bannon. However, her solo efforts did not see success until she joined her sisters on the “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters” TV variety show.
The show did not only showcase her singing but as well as her multi-instrumental skills and comedy talents. After their two-year TV stint, Louise was off on her own again and finally had her breakthrough in 1983.
Ellen Irlene Mandrell
Irlene is the youngest among Barbara Mandrell’s sisters. She first rose to fame as a model for CoverGirl. Shortly after the cancellation of Barbara Mandrell & The Mandrell Sisters TV variety show, Irlene joined the cast of Hee Haw as one of the “Hee Haw Honeys” and had an eight-year run.
But in addition to her acting and singing skills, Irlene is also an accomplished hunter. She is also very competitive in several sporting events, including as a racecar driver.
Where Are They Now?
In 1997, Barbara Mandrell gave her final performance at the Grand Ole Opry House before retiring from country music. Except for George Jones’ memorial service and one appearance in 2013, Mandrell has not returned to the Opry stage.
The legendary country singer was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2016. But still, you will rarely see her perform in public. She is now spending most of her time with her family. In fact, after she has retired, she sold all of her musical instruments.
“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,” Barbara told The Boot. “I just don’t want any temptation! The only place I sing is on the pew with everybody else in church.”
Louise, on the other hand, released a new album called “Playing Favorites” in 2019. The 15-song collection includes her take on well-loved country classics like “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “Crazy Arms,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “He Thinks I Still Care,” and “Tennessee Waltz.”
“Playing Favorites” is Louise’s return to the spotlight after not releasing any album in more than 30 years. “A lot of people have asked if I’ve retired and I’d say, ‘No, I’ve been on hiatus’ because with my family if you say retired, they expect you to stay that way,” Louise said.
As for Irlene, she has landed a weekly show on Nashville Country Network’s internet radio station, Renegade Radio Nashville. The show is titled “God Rains Miracles,” and will be focusing on everyday miracles.
Irlene Mandrell with Crystal Gayle
The show debuted May 3, 2020, with Barbara Mandrell as her first guest, who shared the 1984 car crash that almost took her life. “I’m so excited to join the family at Renegade Radio Nashville, especially with the opportunity to share people’s experiences with GOD’s miracles on Sunday,” Irlene said. “God has blessed my family and friends and me so much in so many ways, and I look forward to sharing everyone’s most important moments in their lives.”
Though the trio has gone separate ways, they reunite every now and then, and we couldn’t be any happier. For instance, in 2010, Barbara Mandrell reunited with her singing sisters for a rare appearance as the Mandrell Sisters to support SEEK (Suba Environmental Education of Kenya). The fundraiser event was organized by Barbara’s daughter, Jaime Dudney, to help raise funds for those in need in that African nation.
‘Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters’ may have only lasted for two years, and we surely miss all of the Mandrell Sisters’ songs, but you can tell they had a great run. The Mandrell Sisters today are considered to be one of country music’s more successful female singers.