HOT DISH: Diamond Dolly Shines Brightest in Washington

Plenty of Stars -- and Food -- Served at Kennedy Center Honors Events

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

Dolly Parton, conductor Zubin Mehta, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors during ceremonies on Dec. 3, but when photos were taken of the five honorees, it was Dolly’s star that shined the brightest. Always the country girl, while others listed the city of their birth, Dolly listed hers as Sevier County, Tenn.

Kennedy family members in attendance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., included the late president’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her husband. Also in attendance were JFK’s brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, along with Ethel Kennedy, wife of the late Robert F. Kennedy. Included in Dolly’s entourage were Stella Parton (her sister), Timothy C. Rauhuff (Stella’s attorney son and Dolly’s nephew) and Don Warden (her longtime manager).

Hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the ceremonies were held in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the U.S. Department of State. Guests were served crab cakes and salad, followed by a lamb entrée with potatoes and asparagus, with baked Alaska for dessert. Each honoree was toasted by a friend: Alison Krauss toasted Dolly eloquently, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. toasted Smokey Robinson and fellow filmmaker George Lucas honored Steven Spielberg.

A Sunday morning brunch was hosted by the show’s producer, George Stevenson Jr., at Café MoZU in the Mandarin Oriental hotel. At 4:30 p.m., the group was shuttled to the White House, all beautifully decorated for Christmas, where they were welcomed by a military band and a buffet of ham, sweet potatoes, shrimp and other things. The president welcomed the guests, personally recognized each honoree and posed for a photo. The next stop the red carpet at the Kennedy Center and the big show that followed.

The CBS broadcast of the show is set for Dec. 26. Friends paying tribute to Dolly included Reba McEntire, who described Dolly as a diamond in a business filled with rhinestones. Reba said women used to be told what to do and what to wear in country music, but Dolly changed all that. “Because of her, we write, we produce and star in our own TV shows,” said Reba.

Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, a Nashville native, said being blonde, she’d always felt a kinship with Dolly. “Dolly’s from Tennessee, and I’m from Tennessee,” she said before adding with a down-home smile, “Dolly has a great figure, and I’m from Tennessee.”

Upon receiving the nation’s highest arts award, Dolly’s classic songs were performed in her honor by Krauss, who chose the angelic vocals of Cheryl White and Suzanne Cox to harmonize with her on “Jolene” and “My Tennessee Mountain Home.” Krauss added harmony to Shania Twain’s rendition of “Coat of Many Colors.”

Surprised by Kenny Rogers’ appearance, Dolly became emotional when he arrived onstage while Carrie Underwood was singing “Islands in the Stream.” But it was Vince Gill who brought the house down with his version of “I Will Always Love You.”

You’ve probably heard that Jessica Simpson almost murdered “9 to 5.” Nobody applauded, and she had to sing it over for television. With all those great country singers in the room, why in the world would Simpson open her mouth and try to sing?

A supper dance followed in the foyer of the Kennedy Center where guests were served salad with smoked salmon, beef tenderloin, veggies and something chocolate. With all the good food, glitter and fame, by the end of the night, nobody could recall what the chocolate dessert was.

All of us at CMT send our love and congratulations to the legend, Dolly Parton, the smartest person ever born in the great state of Tennessee and the brightest shining star of them all.

Hey pals, aren’t you proud I told you what they ate? It’s my CMT gig, after all.

Bare at the Mall
Wanna talk about somebody who should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame? While Christmas shopping at Rivergate Mall north of Nashville, I looked up and saw the great Bobby Bare just hoofing it. Bare, who still looks great, told me he’s cut back on touring but still goes out on the road. He sounds as good as when he became a gleam in the eye of America singing “Detroit City” in 1963.

Lest you forget, it was Bare who brought Waylon Jennings to the attention of Chet Atkins, who signed him to RCA. Bare and I talked about friends — living and dead. We miss Shel Silverstein, Waylon, Cash, June, Chet and the rest. After Christmas we’re gonna visit but not at the mall.

Nashville/Hollywood Connection
Per the Hollywood Reporter, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban’s wife, is earning as much as $17 million per movie to become the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. In second place, making $15 million per movie, is Nashville native Reese Witherspoon, who took home an Oscar this year for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in Walk the Line.

Rounding out third place is Renee Zellweger, who spent four months married to superstar Kenny Chesney before she dissed him. She gets $15 million per film but not a dime of my money.

Snow Time for Sara Evans and Her Kids
I’m always concerned about our country artists traveling on the road, especially during storms. Most recently, my concern was for Sara Evans and her three children, who were snowbound in her bus for 12 hours while her cell phone provided the saving grace between her, her manager and the concert promoter in Merrillville, Ind.

The kids played in snowdrifts three-feet deep without a worry or a care. And Sara made it to the gig on time and performed with Jerry Springer. She and the talk show host met while they were contestants on the Dancing With the Stars TV show.

Here and There
A special edition guitar named the Bobby-O has been created by Waterstone Guitars founder Bob Singer to honor the memory of Brian Williams, beloved SunTrust bank executive and friend to Music Row, who passed away suddenly in July. Proceeds will be deposited into an educational trust for the Williams’ children. All of us loved this man and still can’t talk about him with dry eyes. Sending love and prayers to his wife, Marion.

LeAnn Rimes is slated to host the Colgate Country Showdown National Finals on Jan. 25 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

John Conlee, whose son just returned from Iraq, performed Thursday (Dec. 7) during the lighting ceremony of the National Christmas tree at the White House.

Raised mostly in foster homes in the North Carolina mountains, Jimmy Wayne recently made his first trip to New York City. He saw the lighted tree at Rockefeller Center, visited the World Trade Center site and, like the rest of us hillbillies, went into New Jersey for a glimpse of the amazing Big Apple skyline.

Artist manager Clarence Spalding, whose roster includes Brooks & Dunn, Pat Green, Terri Clark, Sarah Buxton and Ashley Monroe, has added Jason Aldean.

Fletcher Foster, who has done a fine job at Capitol while marketing the careers of Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Trace Adkins, Chris Cagle, Jamie O’Neal and newcomer Eric Church, will soon be performing his magic at Universal South Records in his position of general manager. Here’s wishing mega success for him and Universal South’s Mark Wright.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Hot Beef.