I was raised on country music. Not that I’d admit it. Then. Neither would my sisters. We’d occasionally get caught by friends when we sang along to songs that we weren’t supposed to know. It may have garnered us more than one disbelieving or bewildered look, followed by a “how come you know this stuff?” We might have blushed and stuttered some inane reason as to the why we knew ALL the words… Truth is, I always loved it and am now not shy to admit it, either! Now.
I always knew when my mother was ironing (NOT a regular occurrence, I assure you) because, when I got off the bus on the other side of the field next to our house – back before four houses were added to the lot – I could hear the music blaring through the open windows. Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, never Johnny Cash coz she just didn’t dig him for reasons unfathomable, Loretta Lynn and, of course, Dolly Parton. No way in hell you can list the best of the best of country without including Dolly!
Then again, it is unfair to box her into only one genre, singing for one generation. Who else, except maybe Cher, can claim to be an intergenerational celebrity, loved by both the religious right and the gay community; by octogenarians and twenty-somethings?
When you look beyond all the fake, all the make-up, the wigs, the sparkles, you find a proficient businesswoman, accomplished songwriter, brilliant performer and generous philanthropist. You can’t get more authentic inside all of the outlandish packaging. Packaging about which she maintains to have never pretended to be anything but honest about. Her professional career was built on it and she will continue to maintain it until her last breath. Asked by Barbara Walters why she dressed as she did and wore the wigs when she is naturally beautiful, got this response:
“No, It’s certainly a choice. I don’t like to be like everyone else. I’ve often made the statement that I would never stoop so low as to be fashionable. That’s the easiest thing in the world to do. I just decided that I would just do somethin’ that would at least get the attention. Once they got past the shock of the ridiculous way I looked and all that, then they would see there was parts of me to be appreciated. I’m very real inside. And that’s where it counts… Showbusiness is a money-making joke and I’ve just always liked telling jokes.”
You tell ’em, Dolly! And really, such an interesting interview, it’s worth the listen, if’n you’re so inclined.
Her first real hit, ironically not written by her, though it could have been, says it, she may look it, but she ain’t no dumb blonde…
Dolly has been writing songs since before she could even write (age 5 and her mother wrote them for her). She was performing at ten on TV and bought her family a set with her earnings so they could actually see her. And, she made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry, introduced by Johnny Cash, by age 13, earning three encores. As if writing over 3,000 songs – each of them a little story – and being nominated and earning all sorts of awards (Country, Pop, British, Canadian, Grammy, Emmy, Oscar Tony…), she holds two Guinness World Records! She has had a top twenty country hit in six consecutive decades and has had 107 hits to make the chart. Seriously.
Porter Wagoner really put her on the map, though. She replaced the “girl singer” Norma Jean in the late sixties and was practically booed off the stage. I wonder how she managed not to gag every time she was introduced as the “pretty little gal”? She won them all over, of course, and by 1974 was ready to chart her own course. She wrote “I Will Always Love You” as a parting gift.
“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.”
Speaking of that song, she would dearly have loved to have Elvis Presley sing it. However, Presley’s peeps wanted to own her song and she plumb turned them down, stating it’s her song and no matter how much I would have loved to hear it from his beautiful voice, she would not give it up. Talk about knowing her business! That song would make her mucho moolah thanks to Whitney Houston’s goose bump-inducing version, which she adored.
Dolly managed to cross over from country to pop and back to country, finally dipping her toe into bluegrass, which, let’s face it, is where it all began. But singin’ ain’t all this pretty little lady can do as her roles in movies can attest. Did you know Jane Fonda insisted Dolly be brought in for Nine to Five? Can anyone picture someone else playing Doralee? Or Truvy in Steel Magnolias for that matter? I sure can’t. Little tidbit: while in between scenes, Dolly came up with the theme for Nine to Five by “playing” her acrylic fingernails! I kid you not. Move over washboard, there’s a new instrument in town. I wonder if they include them as one of the ten instruments she plays? Usually, she uses her banjo when writing songs but hey, if nothing else is available…
“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
She never hid her desire to become a superstar and is the epitome of generosity when it comes to her fans. She will never gripe about any demands made on her time because she knows this is part and parcel of the deal. She is ferocious in keeping herself and her views private and will never speak ill of anyone. No matter how many times she has been asked her opinion on politics, we have been left in the dark. I admire a star who keeps herself far away from any potential scandal.
She is gracious and while never officially stating being a feminist is always there to support her fellow women performers. Her theme park is fine and dandy but I’d rather focus on her causes: Imagination Library, which gives books to children from birth till they start school, Buddy Program to help students resist dropping out of high school; fundraising to help with fighting fires, fighting for animal rights, donating $1,000,000 towards the Coronavirus vaccine research and more.
Ohmygosh! I have overstayed my welcome! I’ll spare you more (even though I keep thinking of more things to say!) Dolly Parton’s place on Mount Rushmore, as far as I’m concerned, is not to be denied.
Please make sure you go over to see Marc’s choice for the Male side on Sorryless.