The baby wasn’t expected to live. In a Houston hospital in December, 1948, a pregnant Mary Mandrell went into convulsions. Doctors felt that with surgery, they could save her, but told her husband, Irby, that they doubted the baby would make it. As it turned out, Irby ran into a doctor at the hospital whom he had known for years, and that medic gave special attention to the case.
When both mother and daughter survived, the birth of Barbara Mandrell made a very special Christmas Day present. From the outset, Irby saw a musical career for his child. Barbara read music before she could read English and studied music feverishly outside of school.
The Mandrell family put together a band and she toured at age 13 with Johnny Cash, June Carter and Patsy Cline. In 1967, Barbara married Ken Dudney, the band’s drummer, who soon went overseas as an Air Force pilot. The next year, Irby took Barbara to the Grand Ole Opry and in the middle of the show, she turned to her father and asked him to manage her as an entertainer.On March 1, 1969, Mandrell signed her first deal with Columbia Records, securing Billy Sherrill as her producer.