Since announcing her retirement in 1997, Country Music Hall of Fame member Barbara Mandrell has mostly stayed out of the spotlight other than a handful of public appearances where she wasn’t performing. So it feels like a significant development that Mandrell has released a new dance remix of the pop crossover classic “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” which became her first Number One country hit in 1978.
Remixed by Dave Aude (Rihanna, Madonna, Beyoncé), this new version of Mandrell’s disco-tinged track aims for dance floors and drag shows alike, but is also just the first step in a new effort to bring Barbara Mandrell’s music into the digital age. The singer-musician has a new Instagram account already up and running, along with plans to release several of her albums, including 1983’s Spun Gold and 1982’s …In Black and White, to streaming services for the first time in the coming weeks.
In a rare interview, the two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year discusses the new remix, her history of incorporating dance into her live performances, and her experience at a Nashville drag show.
What was your reaction to hearing this dance mix of “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” for the first time?
Oh my gosh, I was thrilled. The arrangement and the beat really throw down, and that’s what makes me happy. Dave Aude did some surprising things to me, particularly when you’re approaching the end of the cut. I’m just hoping that a lot of the DJs like it, where they can mix it in their sets and do some stuff they like too.
Have you ever been to a club that would play this kind of track on the dance floor? It seems tailor-made for a drag performance, too.
I went to [Nashville gay club] Play a few years back with some friends of mine. I was blown away by this one performer doing Dolly Parton. Dolly’s my friend, and she’s exquisite, but so was he. I saw such talent, not only musically and visually, but some of those guys could do makeup that I wish I could do. I remember being a little envious and wishing somebody would have done me, but they didn’t.
Dolly was there for the beginning of your dance career on Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. On the first episode of your NBC variety show, you and Dolly did a little choreography while performing a cover of the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.” How did working with the late choreographer Scott Salmon on your TV show change you as an entertainer?
He gave us so much. My sisters and I, we hadn’t done any dancing, and they brought Scott in. The more Scott would have for us to do, the more we’d ask him to push us harder. When I was touring again after the series ended, I hired Scott every year to come in and help me put the show together. Adding Scott’s dancers to the show really made it special. It became a visual experience.
How did that open you up to include even more pop and R&B numbers in your live show?
It gave me the opportunity to do some tunes that I might not have done, that I found the audience really accepted and enjoyed. We added an Aretha Franklin song, “School Days,” that really featured the four male dancers on the tour. That was a big part of my Las Vegas show, The Lady Is a Champ, that we filmed for HBO.
And while we’re talking about dancing, I have to mention that I got to dance onstage with James Brown twice. Once was at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, when he was doing a show. He pulled me up out of the audience. And the other time was in Las Vegas. I’m not saying I was good, but it brought me such joy and happiness to get to dance. James Brown became a friend to me, and it really hurt when he passed. I just really loved him.
You and James Brown both gave everything to entertain an audience through music and dance. Who do you see carrying on that level of entertainment today?
Well, Michael Jackson was my favorite entertainer. After he passed on, Bruno Mars took his place for me. I also love Justin Timberlake and Kelly Clarkson. Great entertainers as well as great singers, and Kelly can stretch any way she wants to with style.
Your career really kicked into overdrive in the late Seventies when you started incorporating R&B sounds into tunes like “Woman to Woman” and “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right.” What led you to take your music in the direction?
I love R&B. Always have, always will. To me, country music and R&B music have a lot of similarities, but the one thing that I think is the most important is both genres, just straight ahead, they’re telling you. They’re not making up a story just because it rhymes nicely. They’re telling you straight ahead, something. In its simplicity, it’s really strong. And I like rhythm. I like the beats in R&B. The bass is my favorite instrument, without a doubt.
You’re releasing a dance song in the middle of a very tough time as we deal with a global pandemic. What are your hopes for the track?
This is a really hard time for people, and I’m praying for everybody every day. I think my daughter Jaime said it best. She told me, “It’s so appropriate for ‘Sleeping Single in a Double’ bed to be coming out now. It makes you smile, and it makes you happy.”