From behind the drum set in her sister’s band to the corn fields of Hee Haw to being the ‘funny one’ on Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters television show, Irlene Mandrell has done it all. She’s a performer, a model, a comic, a singer, a musician, a mother and more.
2018 finds Irlene reflective and thankful; releasing new projects that look back on her life with clarity. She has recently released a new album dedicated to military and first responders called Thanks To You on Reviver Records. Likewise, Irlene has released a new country single to radio called “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Heartache,” also on Reviver Records.
Irlene has also become an author. Her book, God Rains Miracles, is an inspirational look at her family life and her faith.
“I have had all these stories forever,” she explained. “They’re family stories that happened both before and after I was born. It’s like ‘God rains miracles’ all the time, constantly all around me. I could be writing another book right now because they’re so constant.”
Irlene has also become the host of a YouTube series she has appropriately named “Now and Then,” distributed by The Nashville Soundbite. The series is a nostalgic look back on Mandrell Sisters memories, as well as new updates from Irlene. So far, the series has featured guest appearances from Charlie Daniels, John Schneider of The Dukes of Hazzard and Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys. Each video features a short interview and clips of Irlene interacting with her guests back on the Mandrell Sisters show.
“People have been great to do the videos with, so we’ll just keep going as long as we can drag people in,” Irlene said with a laugh.
Reflecting back on her sisters’ television show provides Irlene with plenty of fond memories.
“The girls and I always think about them as the best home movies ever,” she said. “We were already really close because Louise and I were part of Barbara’s band, so we traveled together growing up. When the show happened, we weren’t working together anymore so it was kind of like a reunion.”
The NBC variety show was one of the last successful prime-time TV variety shows. The Mandrell sisters sang and danced, entertained the audience with skits and comedy, and hosted guests like Brenda Lee, Alabama, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, The Statler Brothers, Ronnie Milsap, Minnie Pearl, Glen Campbell, Roy Rogers, Ray Charles and many more.
Each sister developed her own character during the show. Barbara, the leader. Louise, the smart one. And the striking, blonde Irlene, the funny one.
“It’s so nice that you say funny and not ditzy, right!” she laughed, “We had 12 writers. They spent a few weeks getting to know us before they started writing. So of course they’re going to exaggerate us. They take care of me because I’m the baby. But it also makes me take things not very seriously sometimes and just have fun with life. My dad always said if you make a mistake you gotta be able to laugh at it, so that makes me laughing all the time.”
After the Mandrell Sisters came to an end in 1982, Irlene found work on another hit variety show: Hee Haw. She eventually became a ‘Hee Haw Honey,’ a sought after role on the show, and often did skits as Kornfield Kounty’s telephone operator.
“Oh Hee Haw was funny,” she said, “we went from learning a drum solo a week. You really had to learn it because you first pre-recorded it and then you had to match it [during the taping]. Learning the dance and the comedy…everything was scripted, which we’d memorize.”
When asked about cue cards, Irlene said there were none. “No, we didn’t want to [use them],” she explained. “It just seemed so more real to us– to just have it down.”
However, cue cards were used during the jokes in the corn field to help create comedic reactions to the punch lines. Irlene adds, “Sam [Lovullo, the producer of the show] liked to not let anyone see the jokes until they held up the cue cards, and if you made a mistake, fine, they loved it!”
In addition to her newly released single “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Heartbreak,” Irlene is planning some Christmas shows later this year with her children Vanessa, Christina and Deric.
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