Country music superstar Barbara Mandrell called last week to just say that she savors the memories of her fans but continues to lead a fairly quiet and happy life away from the spotlight.
And one of the things she talked about was her friendship with none other than Augusta soul music icon James Brown.
Yours truly had written to Mandrell wondering if she would do a rare interview in light of this month’s being 20 years from her farewell to show business.
Many other major artists have announced their “retirement” and have promoted their “farewell” tours, but Mandrell is one of the view to say it’s over and mean it.
Even in 2002 when Mandrell hosted an all-star tribute to gospel star Dottie Rambo, Mandrell still did not sing during the show.
It was two months before her 50th birthday that the country music legend performed her “Last Dance” concert on Oct. 23, 1997, in Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House taped as a TV special.
Mandrell not only left a voice mail message for the call I missed at my office but phoned back a short time later to catch up for about 20 minutes before an appointment.
Our history goes back to late 1972 when she and her family band came to Augusta for three shows a night at The Country Carousel nightclub, 627 Broad St., advertised as being “for one week only.”
She would eventually sell millions of hit singles and albums, co-host the Barbara Mandrell &The Mandrell Sisters program for three seasons on the NBC network, twice be voted the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year (1980, 1981) and be inducted in 2009 into the CMA’s Hall of Fame.
Her three children – Matt, Jaime and Nathan – reared with her husband Ken Dudney now have non-show-business careers of their own. The Mandrells celebrated their Golden Anniversary last May.
Jaime is hospitality director of the former Mandrell home “Fontanel” in Whites Creek, Tenn., outside Nashville, where the children grew up.
The three-stories “largest log home in the world” with its 20 rooms, 13 baths and an indoor pool now is a popular conference center and entertainment venue.
Barbara rarely pops up at public appearances, but she did agree in 2015 to co-host the fifth annual Unleashed: Dinner With Your Dog benefit with her famous sisters, Louise and Irlene, (talking, not singing) for the Nashville Humane Association at Music City’s Hutton Hotel.
Mandrell long has loved animals and frequently traveled during her career with her beloved Yorkie.
The retired superstar has many memories of her trips to Augusta performing at the downtown nightclub, Bell Auditorium and James Brown Arena.
And one of those favorite memories was being with her late father, Irby Mandrell, who was her personal manager, and mother, Mary, on her custom tour bus parked on Broad Street in front of the nightclub when there was a knock on the door.
Who should it be? None other than James Brown who wanted to say hello. He ended up visiting on the bus with the Mandrell family, and they all became lifelong good friends.
“When I think of the past, two of my joys were that I danced with Lawrence Welk once and danced with James Brown twice,” she recalled in our recent phone conversation.
“He was playing the Ryman one time, and I took my son Matt to see him. Matt then was a chef in local restaurants. Mr. Brown was sick with a cold or flu or something.
“And I was so proud that Matt took it upon himself to say to him, “What may be good for you is to have some soup.’ Matt left the building and knew what nearby restaurant to go, and he came back with some soup for Mr. Brown. It was such a kind thing for Matt to do.”
When this columnist passed Mandrell’s comments on to Brown’s daughter, Deanna Brown-Thomas, she replied, “That’s awesome! Dad loved Miss Mandrell too!”
Mandrell also has fond memories of country music star and Grovetown, Ga.-resident Terri Gibbs, who sang a duet of Dream Lover with Mandrell on her network TV show.
And Mandrell again just in August got to talk with former Augusta resident Brenda Lee at the funeral for Jo Walker-Meador, former executive director of the Country Music Association.
It was in June 1973 that Mandrell was sitting by the pool at the Uptowner motel, Eighth and Reynolds streets (now a parking lot) watching her young son, Matt, swim when she told me about her new single coming out called Midnight Oil.
Up until that time, Mandrell had been known for moderate hit singles covering soul music songs including Aretha Franklin’s Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, Joe Tex’s Show Me (A Man Who Loves A Good Woman), Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and Roy Head’s Treat Her Right which she re-did as Treat Him Right.
“It’s so different from anything I have done before,” she told me about Midnight Oil.
“It’s about a woman having an affair and cheating on her husband. I feel it is either going to be real big or real nothing. I know it’s not going to be anything in between.”
Wow, was she ever right as the song became a career-maker that helped establish Mandrell as a true legend in country music.
At the end of the taping of the Last Dance concert, Mandrell told the sold-out Opry House audience, “All of our crew, all of the Do-Rites and me, we thank you from the bottom of our heart for all of you here this evening and for all of you watching this on television.
“We thank you for letting us have the last dance with you. I want you to remember this last song that I sing, because it is exactly the song that the Do-Rites and I want to sing for you.”
And with that said, she began softly singing the ’40s ballad, “You’ll never know just how much I miss you. You’ll never know just how much I care.”
Well, 20 years after she made her public goodbyes, there are still thousands of her fans worldwide including yours truly who still miss her and still care.