Dolly spills the surprising muse of her first songwriting session.
LOS ANGELES – When Dolly Parton was a little girl growing up in Sevierville, Tenn., she put a tobacco stick in a crack in the floor on the porch and topped it with a tin can. She pretended it was a microphone and she was singing on The Grand Ole Opry. Her audience was her siblings who were too young to crawl away and the family’s farm animals.
“I have been in music for a long time, but it has been in me a lot longer,” Parton said. “It was my dream. It’s long, long way from the hills of East Tennessee to Hollywood Hills. It has been a wonderful journey.”
Parton was honored by MusiCares Friday night as its 2019 Person of the Year. Hundreds of people clamored downtown for a fundraising dinner and all-star concert in Parton’s honor at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Hosted by Little Big Town, the evening included performances from Pink (“Jolene”), Miley Cyrus, Shawn Mendes and Mark Ronson (“Islands in the Stream”), Chris Stapleton (“9 to 5”), Don Henley and Vince Gill (“Eagle When She Flies”), Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood (“Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You”), Cam, Jennifer Nettles and Margo Price (“Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”), Yolanda Adams (“I Will Always Love You”) and Brandi Carlile and Willie Nelson (“Everything’s Beautiful in Its Own Way”).
Parton is the first country singer to be named a MusiCares Person of the Year.
“She’s one of the greatest songwriters of our time,” Brooks said before the show. “She just transcends everything. Forget the fact that it’s male or female, she’s above that. She’s Dolly and to think that she’s the first one that MusiCares has recognized from Nashville. She’s paving the way for all women and men. If that’s it, I want to be the woman she is.”
Dolly Rebecca Parton was born Jan. 19, 1946. One of 12 children born to Avie Lee and Robert Parton, Parton took a bus to Nashville in 1964 – the day after she graduated high school to start her career as a country singer. 55 years later, she has dozens of Top 10 hits, is among the most awarded artists in country music history and still sees her songs top the charts.
Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” was released the first time in the 1970s, and Whitney Houston covered it in her popular movie “The Bodyguard” in the 1990s, giving the song new life. Parton has starred in movies including “9 to 5,” “The Best Little Whore House in Texas,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Joyful Noise” and most recently she earned multiple nominations for her songs featured in Jennifer Aniston’s new movie “Dumplin’.”
Parton is also widely respected for her philanthropy. She founded Imagination Library in 1995 in honor of her beloved father who couldn’t read. Imagination Library began as a free service that shipped books from birth to age 5 years old to children in her hometown. Today, Parton’s Imagination Library ships more than 1 million age-appropriate books a month to children in four countries and has distributed more than 115 million free books to youth since it was founded 23 years ago.
“I want to be known more for books than looks in life,” Parton said from the stage. “I’ve often wondered what my daddy might have been if he could read and write. My daddy got to live long enough to see ‘Imagination Library’ doing well and he got such a kick out of the kids calling me the book lady.”
55 years after leaving Sevierville for Music City, the mountain town is still close to Parton’s heart. The singer owns Dollywood, a family friendly theme park located in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., that is the largest employer in Sevier County. When a wildfire raged through nearby Gatlinburg and parts of Pigeon Forge in 2016, Parton organized her Emmy-winning fundraiser Smoky Mountains Rise. Through her My People Fund, Parton gave victims who had lost their homes because of the fire $10,000 per family.
Not all support is financial. Unknowingly, Parton’s words gave Carlile emotional support in trying times. Carlile read one of Parton’s books as a teenager. At the end, Parton included a passage supporting the LGBTQ community.
“Dolly Parton is my hero,” Carlile said. “I was 15 years old. I read her book and in the back of her book she professes her love and acceptance for LGBTQ people. And for a kid who was coming out at the start of it in high school, that said a lot to me. That said, this woman is religious, inspiring, she’s positive and she’s open arms to people like me. I’m going to be alright.”
In addition to dinner and the concert, the evening also included live and silent auctions to continue raising money for MusiCares. The program provides members of the music community help when they need critical assistance. Since 1989, MusiCares more than $60 million has been distributed.
“We hillbillies need MusiCares, too,” Parton said expressing her gratitude to the organization. “We may not have sex, drugs and rock and roll but two out of three ain’t bad.”
Over the course of the night, other performers included Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves who sang “Here You Come Again.” Lauren Daigle delivered a soulful version of “The Seeker.” Norah Jones with Puss n Boots covered “The Grass is Blue” and Mavis Staples and Leon Bridges brought down the house with “Not Enough.”
“We love you, Dolly,” said Perry. “We want to be just like you when we grow up.”
Other than the performers, there were a slew of other famous faces in the crowd. Actress Reese Witherspoon was on hand as was Orlando Bloom, who came with Perry. But it was Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, Parton’s collaborators on the Trio project, that she was most surprised to see. Ronstadt has Parkinson’s disease and when she felt responsible for Parton’s trophy falling to the floor, Parton was fast to reassure her.
“Just a little piece (broke off),” Parton said. “We’re not hurt.”
Parton and Linda Perry, her collaborator on “Dumplin’,” paired for the finale – a tender, acoustic version of “Coat of Many Colors.”
Parton will be again honored with an all-star salute Sunday night at the Grammy Awards, which will air live from Los Angeles Staples Center 7 p.m. (CST) on CBS.
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