Petite, curvaceous and sporting her trademark platinum tresses, Dolly Parton delighted fans during a Wednesday (June 13) appearance on CMT Most Wanted Live, which is filmed before a live audience in the conservatory of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Nashville. The show boasted the premiere of Parton’s new video for the single “Shine,” a cover of a Collective Soul song that appears on Parton’s current Sugar Hill release, Little Sparrow.
Parton more than did her share to light up Fan Fair week in Music City. The renowned singer, songwriter and actress was given an ecstatic welcome by the wall-to-wall fans who packed the museum, some of whom had camped out since 6 a.m. to see the blond superstar.
Before her appearance on CMT Most Wanted Live, Parton regaled journalists during a press conference at the museum. “I almost feel like a woman preacher up here,” she said, taking the podium. “That wouldn’t be new to me. I grew up seeing women preachers.”
It seemed no coincidence that the diminutive icon cited such an early female influence. Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999, Parton has become one of the most influential of female entertainers, achieving superstar status in both country music as well as the broader pop culture.
During the press conference, Parton said that it was through her husband, Carl Dean, that she first discovered “Shine.” “Collective Soul had this out, it was a rock group,” she said about her new single. “I just loved the song, and Carl Dean did too. He listens to a lot of rock radio in the car and had the station on. I thought it sounded like a gospel song. I thought, ‘Wow, that is a great song, maybe some day I could find a way to take some of the rock out of it and make it more country.’ So it just kind of danced across my mind one day when we were doing more of these bluegrass and acoustic things. I thought, to replace the heavy guitar with the mandolin, it might work good, and it did. And it’s just a song I loved.”
In more ways than one, it will be a busy week for Parton. She will join the New York-based Songwriters Hall of Fame Thursday night (June 14). Emmylou Harris will perform for Parton’s induction during the 32nd annual awards ceremony at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers. When asked how she felt about the honor, Parton was unequivocal in her response. “I have to honestly say, on a personal note, that probably is the greatest compliment I’ve ever had, ’cause I’ve always prided myself on being a songwriter. I’ve written so many songs through the years, thousands of songs, since I was a little girl. I feel like song has taken me everywhere I’ve gotten to. In fact, it was my love for writin’ songs that brought me out of the mountains. I love to sing, but I really believe that it’s my songwritin’ that really kind of started it all.”
In the public eye, Parton’s ample gifts as a songwriter have often taken a back seat to her electrifying persona. At the new Hall of Fame, Parton is spotlighted in the interactive exhibit “The Songwriter’s Craft,” which features Parton answering specific questions regarding such self-penned classics as “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “To Daddy,” “I Will Always Love You” and the theme for the film 9 to 5.
At the press conference, Parton appeared genuinely moved by her most recent induction. “Honestly, being put into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, with all the great people in there, would have to be one of the greater compliments that anyone could ever be paid. I don’t know that I’m deserving, but it makes me want to go out and write songs.”
On that count, and many others, Parton has indeed been busy. She spoke of her recent songwriting ventures, a Disney film she worked on that is set for spring release and an intriguing project for television — a movie based on the life of Mae West. Parton is set to star as the wisecracking blond sex symbol.
Although the movie project is still at the script stage, Parton is already working hard to perfect the late star’s voice. “I’m not gonna do Mae West with a southern accent,” she laughed. “I’m gonna be Mae West, not Dolly Parton. I’ve watched all her films. I’ve always thought she was great. And we’re not that different as far our attitude and our personality. Of course, I’m no Mae West. Hopefully I will do her proud.”
As for her music, Parton’s return in recent years to acoustic and bluegrass music has seen her come nearly full circle to her roots after years of pop crossover. She was asked by one journalist how she felt about certain grumblings in the bluegrass world that she was not a genuine bluegrass artist and does not belong in that genre.
“Well, they’re right to say that I’m not bluegrass,” Parton responded. “I don’t know that I don’t belong here — I think you belong anywhere that you’re serving the music well. And I love bluegrass music. They’re right that my roots are not just bluegrass music, although I grew up singing mountain music and I grew up singing bluegrass, too. I’ve always been surrounded with that. It’s a music very familiar to me. I love the music. I can sing it, and I love singing it. And if I can in any way help to bring bluegrass even more forward, I think it deserves to be anywhere it can be.”
Parton was asked what she thought of the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the $37 million facility that celebrated its grand opening on May 17.
“First of all, it means everything to those of us in country music,” she said. “We’re so proud of this building. Being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the greatest honors that will ever be bestowed on anybody, and certainly me, loving country music and being at it all my life. I’m just so proud of what country music has done, and we do deserve this building. I think country music is the greatest music that there ever was, and I’m just so proud that we have a beautiful home for it and a way to immortalize all the wonderful people that have gone before.”