ARTISTS WE LOVE: DOLLY PARTON

The Recording Industry Association of America has certified 21 of her single and album releases as Gold or Platinum. She has had 25 songs reach number one on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. She has 42 career Top 10 country albums and 110 career-charted singles. Sales of her music have topped 100 million records around the world.

She’s been nominated for nearly 400 awards and to date has an astonishing 189 wins. She’s collected statues from the Grammys®, the American Music Awards, The Country Music Association Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, the British Country Music Awards, the Canadian Country Music Awards, the International Bluegrass Music Awards and the People’s Choice Awards, to name a few. She’s even won a Soul Train Music Award.

She became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1969. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2008. She is listed twice in the Guinness Book of World Records and has stars on the Music City Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She was Ms. Magazine’s “Woman of the Year” in 1986 and received the Good Housekeeping “Seal of Approval” in 2001. In 2012, her recording of “Coat of Many Colors” was inducted into the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. She received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2006 and was bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Humane and Musical Letters degree from the University of Tennessee in 2009.

Yet as odd as it sounds, with all that success and all those accolades, 2020 was a renaissance year for singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, author, philanthropist, cultural icon, music superstar and American treasure Dolly Parton.

In January, her “Get You a Woman That Can Do It All” Instagram post was a viral sensation and she cracked Billboard’s Top 10 Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart with “Faith.” That’s right, a hit dance/electronic song from Dolly Parton! In April, she launched “Goodnight with Dolly,” a series of online bedtime stories for children who were frightened by the pandemic. In November, she released the book Dolly Parton, Storyteller: My Life in Lyrics and notched her 50th Grammy nomination, for “There Was Jesus,” a collaboration with Zach Williams in the Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song category.

But wait, there’s more! In December there was a holiday album and a CBS special both titled A Holly Dolly Christmas, the Netflix movie Christmas on the Square (which she scored and starred in) and even an eponymous collection of holiday bakeware from Williams-Sonoma.

Of course, in November 2020, the world learned that Dolly donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University to save us all from the global pandemic. Her generosity helped partially fund the Moderna vaccine. It truly was the year of Dolly. Vanity Fair called her the “Hero of 2020” and former President Barack Obama admitted to The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert on a December 2020 episode that it was a “screw-up” that he didn’t award Dolly the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Obama quickly added “She deserves one. I’ll call Biden.” 

While 2020 was a huge year for Dolly, here are a few more of her greatest hits:

The Imagination Library – In the documentary The Library that Dolly Built, Dolly calls The Imagination Library – a book gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school, no matter their family’s income – “… the best investment I ever made.” According to the program’s website, when the program launched in 1995, books were only distributed to children living in Sevier County, Tenn., where Dolly grew up. It became such a success that in 2000 a national replication effort was underway. By 2003, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library had mailed one million books. It would prove to be the first of many millions of books sent to children around the world.

Jolene” – quick, name another song that starts with the chorus. Betcha can’t. And that sums up the genius in Dolly’s songwriting. Her songs are catchy, melodic, and yes, sometimes commercial. But at it’s very best, her songwriting colors outside the lines and explores territory rarely covered by others. Dolly herself estimates that she has written more than 3,000 songs.

My People Fund – Dolly launched the My People Fund following the devastating 2016 wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains. Through her own foundation and private donations, she pledged $1,000 per month for six months to every family that was displaced by the disaster. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, as of March 2017, the My People Fund had issued monthly checks to 921 families. “We want to provide a hand up to all those families that have lost everything in the fires,” Dolly said.

Dollywood – nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains near her childhood home of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Dollywood puts a whole new spin on the theme park. According to their website, “the world-famous 150-acre theme park is as unique as its namesake and owner Dolly Parton.” The park (originally called Rebel Railroad, and then renamed Goldrush Junction and again renamed Silver Dollar City) was christened Dollywood in 1986 and offers award-winning shows, educational activities and ground-breaking rides and attractions.

“9 to 5” – Dolly took on the role of Doralee Rhodes (her film debut) on the condition that she could write and sing the film’s theme song. We all know the familiar thump-thump-thump that starts off the Oscar®-nominated hit, but most don’t know that Dolly didn’t write the song on her guitar. “I did it on my fingernails,” Dolly told Today’s Willie Geist back in November 2020. “It sounds like a typewriter. I didn’t have my guitar because I didn’t want to get too scattered because we were trying to stay in the mood and they were doing lights and all of that. So, I would just look around and get ideas watching whatever was going on the set. It was about women in the workplace. I would just kind of play my little fingers then go back to the hotel at night and write down the words.”

Golden Raspberry Award – in 1985, at the 5th annual ceremony that honors the worst in film, Dolly took home the award for her song “Drinkenstein” from Rhinestone, a film she starred in with Sylvester Stallone. Interestingly, she beat herself out for the Razzie that year when “Sweet Lovin’ Friends” – also from Rhinestone – was left as also-ran in the Worst Song category.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – long before autotune, Burt Reynolds did his movie star best to keep up with Dolly as her crooning leading man in the 1982 film version of the Broadway hit. Dolly doesn’t let a little thing like Reynolds’ pitch issues dampen the mood as they playfully chase each other around the bedroom singing “Sneakin’ Around.” What fun.

The Quote that will Live in Infamy – “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap”

“I Will Always Love You” – Enough said.

INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW: Yep. Dolly Parton performed at the Straz Center on March 26, 1993.

Thanks to The Bluegrass Situation for inspiration and research.

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