Grammy-nominated vocalist Mandy Barnett has been steeped in the world of country music for much of her life.
Growing up just over 100 miles outside of the Music City lines, in Crossville, Tennessee, she listened to the weekly broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry, which recently celebrated its 5,000th live broadcast.
At a young age, Barnett realized her innate vocal ability and quickly found herself infatuated with singing, though not so interested in becoming a star.
“I’ve always been more interested in singing than trying to become a celebrity. That’s always been my thing: I love to sing,” she shares with MusicRow. “I love the technical aspects of singing. If you have the technical aspects of singing down then you don’t have to worry about the emotional aspects, but it’s a craft. You have to work on it and keep your vocal cords lubed up and agile.”
She continues, “Over the years, I’ve just tried to roll with the punches, keep my voice fairly agile and keep it from aging too much… Whether it’s singing live or in the recording studio, I’ve been singing since I was a little kid so I enjoy both aspects.”
Barnett enjoyed early acclaim, working with famed producer Jimmy Bowen (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers) at the age of 12 and signing deals in her teenage years with MCA and Capitol. However, shortly after moving to Nashville, she was dropped by her label.
Around the same time, a new “jukebox” musical named Always… Patsy Cline was slated to hold its residency at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. After auditioning, an 18-year-old Barnett landed the lead role of the iconic Cline, a role she would become known for for the rest of her career. Barnett appears on the original cast album and remains the only actress to have played the title role on the same stage where Cline’s legendary career began.
“To be able to portray someone that I admired so much was just really a dream come true,” she gushes. “It was so amazing to do that and to work with Gaylord, the Ryman, and all of the great musicians and people that came together for it. We really assembled a great group of people,” Barnett explains.
“I wasn’t coming to Nashville to become the star of a musical theater piece. I was coming to Nashville to make records and do concerts,” she clarifies. “It was just the timing, where I was in my life, and who it was about. All those things matter and all those things came together to be the perfect fit for me.”
In addition to her time in the theatrical space, Barnett has released eight studio albums and worked with some of the who’s who in Nashville’s creative world, including award-winning musicians, songwriters, and producers like Owen and Harold Bradley.
She built her reputation on her powerful voice and devotion to classic country, R&B, and popular standards, which is evident on albums such as her 2020 A Nashville Songbook record, which honors iconic country and pop standards. Barnett’s most recent album, Every Star Above, tributes her hero Billie Holiday. Barnett developed the album alongside the late jazz legend Sammy Nestico and recorded it with a 60-piece orchestra.
“When you’re able to have those roots with people like that, it really means a lot. One of the things that I treasure more than anything are the years that I spent working with some of the greatest musicians, producers, and songwriters ever,” she shares. “[Another one of my favorite parts of my career has been] being able to work at the Grand Ole Opry all these years with the legends.”
After giving over 500 performances on the Grand Ole Opry stage throughout her 30-year career, Barnett has finally earned her coveted spot as a member of the famed country music show.
On Sept. 28–which is also Barnett’s birthday–Opry legend Connie Smith invited her to be the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.
“I was totally clueless about all of it,” Barnett says. “I really had no clue when Connie came back to read my birthday card until she started breaking up a little bit. I thought, ‘Oh no, is she getting ready to ask me this? Because I’m not prepared for it and I may just hit the floor,'” she laughs.
“They made it so special… I have a very long history with the Grand Ole Opry since my years of Always… Patsy Cline, and I’m just very grateful that they invited me to become a member. I’m so proud of it,” Barnett offers.
Barnett’s long-awaited Opry induction ceremony is set to take place tomorrow night (Nov. 2) at the Grand Ole Opry House. She will also be featured in a handful of shows in the Opry’s debut production of “Opry Country Christmas” this holiday season.
When asked what makes the historic Grand Ole Opry stage so special to her and what sets it apart, Barnett quickly sums: “It’s just a special stage in general and it’s the oldest radio show in the world. All the people that I have loved and admired have played on that stage… It’s special to me because I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to get there. It’s really been an amazing journey and well worth the wait.”
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