Dolly Parton kept her promise to bring good into the world in 2020 and beyond. For so many reasons, this is absolutely the Year of Dolly Parton.
Marking her 50th anniversary as an Opry member in October 2019, she told reporters, “This world is just so dark, ugly and awful. I just can’t believe how we just can’t have a little more light and a little more love. So, I’m going to make it my business to try to do songs that are more uplifting — not just all Christian-based songs but songs that are just about better things. Do better and just have a little more love, a little more light and just don’t be so dark and dirty!”
Gosh, where to begin? How about…
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Although it seems like a million years ago now, Dolly launched a viral craze on January 21 with a meme that went around the world. Gotta love the acoustic guitar for Instagram!
Also in January, she notched a Top 10 track on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart with “Faith,” which basically transformed the John Hiatt classic into an international EDM hit. Co-starring in the video with her musical collaborators, Galantis, Parton camps things up as the world’s best-dressed bus driver.
He continued, “I taught two of her managers in Sunday school growing up, so they were kind enough to reach out and play her the song. But she said something on a call. She said, ‘I love this song because it’s reaching to the marginalized, to the depressed, to the suicidal,’ which is all of us at some point. And then she said this, in her Dolly accent: ‘I’m going to take this song from Dollywood to Bollywood to Hollywood.’ And we did it, Dolly, we took it all the way.”
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A few months into the pandemic, Parton told Instagram followers, “I think God is in this, I really do. I think he’s trying to hold us up to the light so we can see ourselves and see each other through the eyes of love. I think that when this passes, we’re all gonna be better people.”
She also revealed on social media that she’d donated a million dollars to Vanderbilt University help find a cure for the coronavirus. She wrote, “My longtime friend Dr. Naji Abumrad, who’s been involved in research at Vanderbilt for many years, informed me that they were making some exciting advancements towards research of the coronavirus for a cure. I am making a donation of $1 million to Vanderbilt towards that research and to encourage people that can afford it to make donations.”
Incredibly, when news of the Moderna vaccine emerged in November, Parton’s contribution was duly noted. “Without a doubt in my mind, her funding made the research toward the vaccine go 10 times faster than it would be without it,” Abumrad told the Washington Post.
In addition, a new line of uplifting greeting cards inspired by Parton appeared in Walmart stores over the summer. Meanwhile, musically, she responded to the pandemic with a beacon of optimism, titled “When Life Is Good Again.” She shared the song in tandem with an interview (while sitting on her porch in her first-ever Zoom call) with the series Time100 Talks: Finding Hope.
Although she’s rarely controversial, Parton’s commentary about Black Lives Matter caused a commotion among its supporters and detractors — and even inspired a mural in East Nashville. She told Billboard in August, “I think that everybody needs to express themselves however they feel they have to. I’m not out here to tell you what to do. I don’t want you to tell me what to do. But I just do what my heart tells me to do, I ask God to direct me and lead me, and if I’ve got his direction, I don’t have to worry too much about anything else. But I do understand people having to make themselves known and felt and seen. And of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No! Everybody matters.”
Those who have been fans of Dolly Parton for their whole lives were treated to two magnificent overviews in 2020. The first is a Time Life box set of her career on camera, available in two different configurations. One option for Dolly: The Ultimate Collection clocks in at 11 DVDs, and the other at 19 DVDs. Some of the most interesting footage comes from her variety shows, such as this clip of the superstar singing “Amazing Grace” with Glen Campbell (who, for some reason, has brought along his bagpipes).
And if all that isn’t enough, she gifted us with a holiday album and a network special (both titled A Holly Dolly Christmas), a Netflix movie (Christmas on the Square), and even a baking kit at Williams-Sonoma. It may be the only time in history that she’s been affiliated with the words “cookie cutter.”
Not that she’s short on awards. She picked up the new Hitmaker award from Billboard in December, and told viewers, “Of course, I’m proud of all the wonderful women in show business that write all these wonderful songs. I’d like to acknowledge a few — some of them older, kind of back in my day. Cindy Walker, who wrote some of the greatest songs ever, and of course Loretta Lynn, a wonderful, wonderful songwriter. And this day in time, of course, Taylor Swift, she’s just right up there, probably number one. And of course, Brandi Carlile, there’s just so many that write so many good songs. I think it’s so important that we acknowledge the women that write and sing in country music. And I think it’s also very important that they take control of their own business. I know I’ve had my own publishing company for years. Same with a lot of these women that I mentioned. But anyhow, I’ve just wanted to always say, ‘You go, girls!’ We can do it!” (Like hundreds of others, the trophy will be housed in her museum in Dollywood.)
On November 30, she wound up in New York Times‘ Style magazine in its “Diva” series, alongside Patti LaBelle and Barbra Streisand. One of the most accurate depictions of what it’s like to be around Dolly (and to always wish you had more time to spend together), the article’s author Emily Lordi quotes Dolly talking about her ambition: “I just wanted to do really good work, and I wanted it to make a really big difference in the world … to uplift mankind and glorify God.”
Photo courtesy of Dolly Parton