Posted September 2018
If you’re a baby boomer, no doubt you remember the hit TV show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. No doubt, you also remember the syndicated hit show, Hee Haw.
The common thread between those two iconic shows is none other than the lovely and talented Irlene Mandrell, the youngest of the three famous sisters.
Irlene has remained quite active since those days on hit TV shows. Not only does she still perform, she also still records (with help by her producer-husband, Pat Holt) and is also a writer – not of songs but, as of recently, books.
I recently spoke by phone with Irlene about her latest CD, Thanks To You, and her new book, God Rains Miracles. I asked her to bring us all up to speed with what’s been going on in her life.
“Well, of course, you know about the CD (“Thanks To You”) – I sent that to you, too – a lot of that has us doing even more benefits. Before, I did a lot for military - the reason we chose to do the CD. But, I’ve also done events connected to police and first responders where they were getting awards and stuff like that.
“We’re booking a Christmas show with my kids – a family thing since Christmas is family and our family. These days, instead of performing as sisters, it’s our kids with family. Of course, Pat and I’s blended family is fun. My son’s a drummer. The girls sing. He actually sings but likes to stay behind the drums. Ha! Ha!”
Irlene shared what the theme is of her latest CD, Thanks To You.
“You can download the songs. They mean a lot to me. We’ve spent some time listening to words and putting together the songs that touched our hearts. When I say ‘our,’ it’s Pat (Holt, Irlene’s husband) and I with Pat producing it.
“Of course, at our age, most of our dads were in World War II. That was the time everybody fought and joined together. Our dads were both World War II veterans and Pat is a Vietnam era veteran – and different people in our family. It meant a lot to us to put this CD together and to listen to the words.
“The first one we put out as a single. We did a couple of singles, first, off the album. The first one was, We Will Stand. I won’t say ‘Pat’, but it made me cry – okay, it made Pat cry, too. When I perform it live, you can look around and there’s military vets – you can see it touches them so strong.
“Eric Horner – he’s a writer from Nashville – Pat was talking to him, ‘I wrote it in fifteen minutes when the towers fell because I just had that strong feeling. It just came out.’ I’m sure that’s what we hear in the words – what you feel.
“Then, we put out a couple of other songs off the album that we liked. Then, we decided that the title of the album should be what we wanted to say to our heroes, which was, ‘Thanks to you!’ Thanks to you for different things but when people say, ‘Thanks to you for our freedom,’ I say, we wouldn’t even be here to have our freedom if it wasn’t for everybody fighting for us to keep them off of our land. That’s what my daddy always said.
“I said to him, ‘What do you think?’ and he said, ‘We fight to keep it off the homeland.’ If it hadn’t been for them, we wouldn’t be here at all. We wouldn’t have our country. So, it’s just saying, ‘Thank you!’
And the response to the CD, so far?
“People who hear the songs and, like I said, when I’m performing, you see reactions. The CD, Thanks To You – the single – that came out and did well on the charts. It stayed on the charts forever, which I loved. I’m not talking Billboard but Independent charts. I’m, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I thought, for sure, it wouldn’t be in there but, the thing is, and I hate to say ‘country music’ because the group, KISS, how they defend our military – they’re very patriotic. There’s a lot of flag wavers and whether they served or not, usually people have had a friend or a loved one that served. I think they appreciate when somebody cares. This is truly from my heart.
“We went two years from the time we started putting songs out and trying to make the album because we were enjoying listening to songs. Pat has so many connections to incredible writers who come into his studio to do demos. He’d say that we were looking for patriotic songs. So, he would bring me songs after he would listen to it and what he liked for me to hear. We just loved it! We had more that we would’ve put on there from great writers with great songs.
“We had friends who set us up with Reviver Records. They told Reviver and they set it up where they could come to the studio and listen. They said, ‘Finish it up then we’ll put it out.’ We finished it in time for Veteran’s Day, so I could say, ‘Thanks To You’ at that time.
“Anyway, it was a great project and, at about the same time this year, something else I’ve been working on for quite a few years – just writing some things now and then, trying to remember miracles that have happened in my family that I’d heard about before I was born that I share with my kids those that have happened since I’ve been here.
“As you start talking to your friends about miracles and I started thinking about putting this into a book, then a couple of friends say, ‘Well, let me tell you . . .’ – even before I even mention the book and share a miracle, I always get one back and I would remember it. I called a lot of people when it got time to do the book and asked them if I could share their miracle.
“I put them down on tape, so I got to hear it again. That was such a blessing as with the CD. Everything is about God, country, and family. So, getting to do the CD for our country; the people who are heroes; the reason we have our country; doing a book about miracles – some people can read the book if they want and just say, ‘Well, these are great stories and great things that happened to people.’ To me, they’re beyond coincidence – almost all of them. Some of them are stronger than others that you just go, ‘Wow!’ That was such a blessing putting that together. I had people coming to me who didn’t know I was writing the book – before I could finish that one, I was thinking, ‘I need to finish this up’ and someone would be talking and all of a sudden, there would be this miracle and I wouldn’t even mention one to them!
“I met this one lady through a friend – see, the other thing is family. I have a granddaughter that will be turning two in December – our second grandchild. Then, she did, too, and she said, ‘My grandchild, let me tell you, she’s just a miracle!’ She told me the story. Oh my gosh! She gave me her daughter’s number to call. I got that story.
“The one thing I ask everybody, ‘It’s a miracle, regardless. But, let me ask you: were there any prayers?’ She goes, ‘Oh, my gosh, you gotta call my dad because he organized prayers with the church, where he worked, and this and that. It was in queue with the baby and they started praying for everybody’s baby. Everyone was praying for each other. That was all the stories. When I would find out, there would be these prayer groups.
“Anyway, that was such a blessing for me. This year has been so inspirational for me – and such a blessing, that I’ve been floating on the clouds.”
Ms. Mandrell has a stellar reputation for her generous work with various charities. I asked her to share a little bit about that work.
“I’ve done so many different ones. The one that I did a whole show for recently because Many-Bears (Grinder) is the Commissioner of the V.A. for Tennessee and she introduced us to these people who ran the Joshua Chamberlain Society for Nashville. I wasn’t familiar with that one and they take on what they can – just a few people that are so – the V.A. may be operating on them but they’re so injured that there’s no way that they can fend for themselves ever again. So, they take on different ones each year that they know they can keep on doing because they take them on for life. That one’s incredible and I love them. So, we did a show for them in Franklin.
“And, then, before that, Nashville also has the Stand Down program. They take veterans off of the streets. There are so many good ones. They teach them. They train them. They help them get jobs and back on their feet where they can survive on their own. They take in clothes and stuff like Goodwill does.
“There’s Wounded Warrior. We’ve gone out and have done shows. We did one in Jackson recently where I just did some songs to tracks. I didn’t actually put the band together.
“One time, I did a shotgun shoot for Boy Scouts and Wish Upon A Star. Pat and I talked about it. There’s so many good ones right now. I don’t know. I’d like just doing benefits for different ones.”
Circling back to chat about her book, I asked Irlene how long it took her to pull all of the stories together.
“I think about five or six months. I already had most of the stories together. I had written six or seven, actually, and I had read them to the people that they were from. It wasn’t like I came up with a story line or about things that had happened in my past like in a biography or something. I just knew all of these stories.
“Nowadays, it’s just so easy to record somebody. Even if I knew the story – other than the ones I had already written and read to them and knew that the people were happy with it – I wanted to make sure that I didn’t remember it a little wrong. So, I would record everybody telling it to me again. I would put it in my words coming from me but, still, it’s their story. I didn’t leave anything out.
“Like the girl I told you about that called about that baby, she said, ‘You’ve got to call my father.’ So, I called him and recorded his story about his side of it and the people who started to pray and stuff. Of course, you have to interweave the story. But I would do all of that as I was laying in bed at night and put in the ear things and listen to their story and start writing.
“Louise’s story - I knew so much – her story about Nicole. It’s so long and involved. I was in California and then came back and things had been going on without me there. We sat for a long time and she recorded everything that’d happened. Things that I had not been aware of.
“And Dennis Holt and the bicycle, where he had died? I was writing the book and I hadn’t really thought about him. I knew he had had a wreck. I had forgotten that it was so serious. The picture that I put in there – he was doing a song for me one day. He’s a drummer. He’s not related to Pat. They’ve been friends forever. He was in there and he goes, ‘Take a picture with me and show everybody that I’m back in the studio.’ He looked great!
“I was, like, ‘Right! You had a wreck or something!’ He told me about it and he goes, ‘Let me tell you . . .’ and I go, ‘Oh, my goodness! I need to put this in my book!’
“These things that came to me were not stories that I had already planned to put in there. They came like God said, ‘Okay, here’s this. It’s thrown in your face. You know what to do.’
“I was at a Republican party and there was this lady. She’s a Republican and she’s from Memphis and she’s African-American. That’s hard in Memphis. She said that she was running for the Senate. She said that things had been kinda hard and she said, ‘I decided not to do that. I was actually starting another company. I was kind of sick one day and somebody needed a certain kind of walker.’ They didn’t have one and she had one. She was just going to drive over there and leave it on their back porch.
“On the way, a semi came and hit her head-on. She’s Charlotte in the book. She was dead. She was telling me goodbye. She did not know I was writing a book. I had only met her one other time. She’s saying goodbye and she goes, ‘You know, I wasn’t even going to stay in politics. I was getting’ outta there! It was getting really hard. But let me tell you what happened!’ I told her, ‘Let me tell you what I’m doing.’ So, we go sit down. Anyway, she was awesome to share the story with me for the book. We became really close friends. It’s like God said, ‘Here. You’re supposed to put this in there.’ That’s how easy it was.
“And the title? I was alone, and I said, ‘I’m going to have to have a title. What should I name it?’ And it was, God Rains Miracles. It was that quick that it came to me. I knew it wasn’t me because I hadn’t really thought about it.’ I go, ‘Oh! That is so clever! Playing with the word ‘rains/reigns’. The point of the book is that miracles are just raining all around us. That was just how it was supposed to be – how easy it was because God just handed it to me.
“Later, right after the book just finished and I had signed a bunch to the people – everyone that was in the book I signed a book and gave it to them. I went to this Christmas party that had to do with Pat and some people that are in business with him in music. I got it (the book) done just before Christmas and here’s the Christmas party and I walk in and it’s like the Wizard of Oz in my mind. I didn’t say this out loud but I’m, like, ‘You’re in the book and you’re here. You’re in the book and you’re here!’ It was like, there it is! There is the point of the title. That’s what it’s about.”
Since Irlene alluded to hearing from God, I asked her to expound on it.
“I’ve only heard His voice once. I figured it was His voice or He allowed me to hear in a man’s loud, strong, deep voice from a sound sleep. I was working in a charity and I was thinking, ‘Why is this person that is supposed to be helping me do this now that I brought in and I’m not there to make these decisions. Why is he making these terrible decisions? It just doesn’t seem right, and I know he’s smarter than that.’ That’s all I could think of. “Wow. He’s just overloaded, maybe.’
“Then, I’m sleeping and all of a sudden this voice just said – because I had some problems with him before – it (the voice) just woke me up. It (the voice) told me, ‘He’s working with so and so.’ My gosh!
“I told somebody else who I knew helping me who then checked out some things and it turned out . . . yeah, they were taking money.
“So, I was warned in a man’s voice that I always said was God. I’ve also read where God lets you hear a certain voice – stronger and that’s different than yours. It may not be God’s ‘voice’ but it’s still from God.
“This one lady that I did an interview with who I had met because I was doing something for the CD for the police. She’s Major Michelle. She’s in Jackson, Tennessee, and her husband’s the sheriff there. She was from Texas. When I met her, I found out they use her film - where she was left for dead in Texas as a policewoman – for a training film saying how quickly something that seems okay can change.
“As I was talking to her after that, she goes, ‘You know? Can I just share a story with you that you might want to hear?’
“I remembered that we had these floods in Tennessee. We have these terrible floods where a lot of people were killed. Because her husband being the sheriff, there was a call from a different sheriff in another county nearby. What had happened, they were doing a rescue with this guy – it turned out to be his family. The family was saved but here’s the deal that gave me goosebumps when she told me because I don’t hear God’s voice all the time, I hear – I call it the Holy Spirit within me.
“The teenage boy was face down in this river when it was flooding. He was trying to swim. He couldn’t tell which way was up. The water’s rushing. He later turned over because he said a guy yelled at him from the bank, ‘Turn over to your back! Turn over to your back!’ He did. He was right on the surface and he could breathe. Not only that, when he went by these guys, they put this limb in front of him for him to grab and they pulled him to the bank.
“When everything happened, he said, ‘I’ve got to meet these guys who saved me. It’s so great that they told me to turn over to my back because I was panicked.’
“They’re, like, ‘What? Nobody yelled anything. We were right there. No one yelled anything.’
“That’s when I got goosebumps because that was God telling him to turn over.”
There are some great stories, so I asked Irlene which story she would use as a calling card to entice people to order a copy of the book
“The story that made me want to write the book and to keep track of the stories was one that I always share with my kids at Christmas. I would remind them that Christmas is about Jesus and Jesus’s miracles; and that things happen differently, sometimes. You have no idea what it would affect. This particular miracle, had it happened differently in this family.
“My mom and dad had gotten married. Mom was just sixteen and she was the youngest of ten kids. I think it wasn’t a big deal that she took off with my dad. He was from Arkansas. He had come in with his brother. Both my dad and my mom had brothers who were preachers. That’s how they wound up meeting. Of course, that was cool because they instantly had the same beliefs and all that.
“So, they got married and started travelling around to different places where they had family. They decided that they wanted to settle in Houston, Texas. In the meantime, Mom wound up getting pregnant. They did not really know anybody in Houston other than when they started working there.
“When they went into this hospital on Christmas Eve, Mom went into labor, so they went there. She really didn’t have family there with her. Everything was fine, though, until things changed fast. All of a sudden, something happened, and the doctor came out and told my dad that there was nothing he could do. He was going to lose my mom and his baby. Something went wrong. There was nothing. There was NO chance.
“Dad was out front. He was praying to himself. He had been a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy during World War II. Even though my dad’s name was Irby, in the Navy, they kind of give nicknames. Because he was from Arkansas, they called him Arby.
“So, it was kind of weird for him to all of a sudden hear, ‘Arby?’ That was from out of left field. It turned out to be a doctor that he had served under in the Navy. He was the head of the hospital.
“He told Dad, ‘I don’t really know what I can do. This case belongs to somebody else but let me check on it and I’ll be back.’ He told Dad, ‘I’ll take over, but I want you to assist like you did in the Navy.’ If you think about during World War II, there’s some heavy duty assisting going on. So, they had spent their hours together.
“That was Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, not only was my mom saved, but my sister, Barbara, was born. The miracle is that that doctor out of nowhere showed up! God will put people in your life out of nowhere that are there to help you and you forget that that’s a miracle. Where do they come from?!”
As for feedback on the book, Irlene said:
“Quite a bit because what I do, I’m only selling it – unless I’m appearing somewhere – on my website, IrleneMandrell.com. What I do is I get these orders from PayPal. The CDs are different. They come from someone else. On the books, I don’t care. If anyone’s weird on e-mail, that’s fine. I’ll just delete it. I went ahead and put my e-mail address to the people I get an order from, I say, ‘Thank you for your order. If you would like it personalized, please let me know and I’ll e-mail them, and I’ll sign it that it’s me. If I don’t hear back from them right away, I’ll give them at least three days and then I’ll just sign it and send it out if I don’t hear back from them.
“It’s amazing to me how many times I have gotten an e-mail back after somebody has read it, saying, ‘It blessed me. Thank you! It’s a wonderful book.’ Quite a few times. It blesses me when they do that!”
While we know that God can still perform miracles, we may catch ourselves saying, “I know He can, but does He, still?” This book answers that question. It’s encouraging, inspiring, and uplifting. It gives hope and, if you’ll let it, you just might feel a nudge from our Maker as you read it and let yourself be open to it.
You can order the book and CD in plenty of time for Christmas by visiting IrleneMandrell.com.