Dolly Parton has poured herself a cup of ambition and revealed a new career goal: “I’m going to make it my business to try to do songs that are more uplifting.”
Even though there’s probably a Dolly joke about “uplifting” in there somewhere, she’s very serious about her musical future.
During a press conference at the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday (October 12), commemorating her 50th year as a member, she stated, “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!”
She’s already set out on that path with a song called “God Only Knows” with the Christian group For King and Country. An upcoming track called “There’s Jesus” is on the way too. And she’ll be performing a faith-based medley during this year’s CMA Awards. (Of course, Dolly fans will know that this is the 30th anniversary of her “He’s Alive” performance on the show, which was then filmed at the Grand Ole Opry House. We got a blessing out of it.)
During the press conference, she reminisced about her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry when she was 13 years old. “I just have so many memories,” she reflected, “even as a child, a young person watching the people backstage, and standing out there on that stage where all the great people stood, just thinking maybe someday I would be part of them.”
Sure enough it happened in 1969. Though she spoke at length about her time on The Porter Wagoner Show, her career truly flourished when she stepped away from that syndicated series to pursue a solo career. She conceded that she wasn’t able to make her quota of appearances when those were still required, and admits that she even offered to be dropped from the cast.
“After I started getting more famous, I wasn’t able to come to do my shows twice a month that’s required. And I kept saying to them, ‘You don’t have to keep me on as a member if you don’t want to, because I’m not holding up to my contract. I want to get there. I want to do it,’” she recalled. “But they said, ‘No, no, no, you’re out there talking about us every day. You’re talking about how proud you are in the Opry, so you’re as much a member of the Opry, as big a part of that as anybody ever was.”
She is still an enthusiastic promoter. Admittedly hoarse from talking all day, Parton nonetheless was able to mention her co-hosting duties on the CMA Awards, her upcoming Netflix specials, the opening season for Dollywood next year, and a 2020 Christmas musical she’s written the music for and will be starring in. In addition, she’ll be recording some solo footage at the Ryman Auditorium to incorporate into the upcoming NBC special airing November 26, celebrating this landmark year.
During her Opry performance, he sang seminal hits like “Joshua” and “Jolene,” then brought out one of Porter Wagoner’s most revered band members, Buck Trent, for a rendition of “The Carroll County Accident.” At one point, she hopped on a stool to play dulcimer and remarked that the audience would now understand why she was wearing a pantsuit instead of a skirt — a style choice that prevented her from “showing my box office,” she quipped.
Certainly, Dolly’s comic chops are a part of Opry history, too. During the press conference, she spoke about Speck Rhodes, the comedian on Porter Wagoner’s show, as well as the Opry’s most famous comedian, Minnie Pearl.
“Minnie Pearl was a dear friend of mine and she was a very classy lady, Parton said. “She was very intelligent, very educated, but she put on that whole garb, with her little hat, just so she could do that corn country comedy that people love — because this is about country people. People back home working on the farms, and milking their cows, and they love laughing. They love to have something to listen to, to laugh about and the type of humor that they understand.”
She added, “For most country people, and certainly entertainers like myself, I think comedy is part of our being, because it’s what helps you remember the hard times growing up. We make more fun of stuff that you shouldn’t even laugh at, but that was funniest stuff to us because we were trying to find the humor in it. … I grew up in a family where my dad’s people were absolutely hysterical. My mom’s people too. So, I get that from them. We’re just naturally funny — we think!”
Even now, Parton’s mind goes wandering back to the seasons of her youth. During her set she sang her beloved early singles like “My Tennessee Mountain Home” and “Coat of Many Colors.” She joked that when the royalties came in for “Coat of Many Colors,” she offered to buy her mother a mink coat. Her mother replied, “Where am I going to wear a mink coat?” and simply asked for the money instead.
“My daddy loved the Grand Ole Opry so we had to listen to it back home, and me dreaming of being on it, and I remember that being special. But then the night that I actually became a member, after I was on Porter Wagoner’s show, and got to actually be member 50 years ago this year, it was one of the highlights of my whole life because it was a true dream of mine. I just wish Mom and Daddy could be here tonight — but I think they are.”
After playing her country crossover hits “9 to 5” and “Here You Come Again,” Parton closed her first set with “I Will Always Love You.” It capped a night of Dolly classics performed by guests like Bill Anderson (“But You Know I Love You”), Candi Carpenter (“Little Sparrow”), Toby Keith (“Kentucky Gambler”), and Lady Antebellum (“Islands in the Stream”).
During the press conference, she noted, “All these friends coming and stepping forward to share this night with me just makes it more special to me. But it’s kind of a dream-like thing. You never know what’s going to happen to you in your life. You never know if your dreams are going to come true, and if they do, you wonder how people will remember you when you’re older — and now I’m older. And I’m seeing how people are going to remember me and that makes me feel very humbled.”
She continued, “I’m just very honored that I’m still around, not only to just get to accept this, but I can actually perform and get out there and still do what I love to do, and maybe I’ll be around another 50 years, who knows? If I’m lucky.”