Q&A: Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton, the “Queen of Country Music,” is reigning on our gay parade with a new album and new tour. She is tied with Reba McEntire in having No. 1 country singles in four consecutive decades.

Her movie career has been a hoot to watch over the years from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to Steel Magnolias, and she has a new movie called Joyful Noise. And she's kept us chuckling with multiple television appearances and singing with a hit musical version of her 1980 flick 9 to 5.

From her humble roots in Tennessee our “Backwoods Barbie” has continued to be our doll. Sit a spell as she takes us behind the scenes beneath the makeup and glitter with this down home interview. 

Hello, Dolly! The last time I saw you was at the 9 to 5 Musical debut in Chicago.

Dolly Parton: Oh my! That was on the road tour. Well, good to talk to you again.

We made it Dolly Parton Day in the city.

DP: That’s right you did. That was a really fun time. I even took off from the movie I was doing in Atlanta because it was a real important thing for us to come to Chicago.

Well, thank you for coming.

DP: Well, thank you for having Dolly Day! (both laugh)

How was it working with Queen Latifah?

DP: It was great. We had a ball. I never enjoyed anything more. We were there for three months, January, February and March. The movie comes out January the 12th of next year. It is a Warner Brothers film called Joyful Noise. It is a music driven movie with gospel music. It is about a choir that competes around the country in the economy being bad with the unlikely friendship of these two women, which is Queen Latifah and myself. We had a wonderful time working with all of the people. I think it is very uplifting and you better go see it!

I will! You sing on the soundtrack right?

DP: I wrote four of the songs plus I sang on bunches of the stuff on the soundtrack, yes.

Great. You just did a cartoon movie called Gnomeo and Juliet, too.

DP: Ha! Well, that was short and sweet. I actually didn’t do much. I called in a lawnmower race announcer voice. They had this little character in there. It was fun to do. I did that mostly because my little nieces and nephews and all the little kids I know. I thought, “Well, why not?”

Let’s talk about your new album Better Day. The first track is so feisty. I really love it.

DP: Oh, “In the Mean Time?” That is one my favorite songs because it sums up what is going on in the world, my attitude about it. Everybody is so down in the dumps and waiting for the end of time instead of doing something about it, enjoying the time they got. This whole album I wanted to write stuff to uplift people and give a positive spin on this negativity.

Good for you. Is there a video you are making for the first single “Together You and I?” 

DP: Yes, the video comes out next week. Trey Fanjoy, who is the Director of the Year here at CMT this year, she did a wonderful video that shows people from all over the world, love in all forms and fashions, more of a universal love. It is a beautiful video. The album just came out June 28th. We got all sorts of good things going with our tour coming up on July 17th we start our Better Day World Tour named after the album of course. We have a lot of good positive stuff in that from doing different things for the fans.

What is your favorite thing about touring?

DP: People, the audience. I love that. ‘Course I love to travel because I am a gypsy. But I actually enjoy performing for the fans that love to see it. I have been around so many years, worked so many audiences, and had so many types of shows. Since the beginning for me it is kind of fun to watch how things have changed. I have fans from little bitty kids now watching Hannah Montana with Aunt Dolly to some of my older fans and the new ones that have discovered my music. It is a really fun trip for me as you can imagine.

Describe the tour bus for our readers.

DP: My tour bus is set up great. I have always had a bus. I have traveled on a tour bus since 1967. The bus I have now is an updated and modern version, where there is room. Especially when it has stopped you can let the sides out and have a real home. I don’t stay in hotels so I just live on my bus. I’ve got everything from my kitchen to my televisions, DVDs, and books. It’s a way to carry my wigs and my costumes. I am set up good for that.

Are you able to take off the wig and shop at Kroger without people recognizing you?

DP: Well, if I went to Kroger I wouldn’t take off my wig. I don’t go grocery shopping too much but when I do it usually in the wee hours after midnight. If I am really wanting to cook certain things for a special occasion that I really need and I don’t trust anyone to find it I still will go to the store. But I usually dress like myself and go in. I can’t be disguised because if I open my mouth you know it’s me! I sound as different as I look. There is no point in going and embarrassing myself by looking like hell.

That’s a good point. What is the craziest thing a fan has ever asked of you?

DP: There are all kinds of things that people ask me to do but I tell this story and it’s a true story but freaky. Years ago when I first started being a big star I had fans that were fanatical. It was when “Jolene” was a big hit. We came home one day and there was a baby in a box at our gate with a note in it. The note said, “My name is Jolene, my momma has left me here and she wants you to have me.” Of course we all freaked out! We immediately called Human Services and took care of the baby until they got there. We never did know or hear anything about it. I knew nothing else. What do you do in a situation like that? There are some loony people in this world!

That is true.

DP: Can you imagine yourself in that situation? It wasn’t like it was a kitten or a puppy dog. It was a baby named Jolene!

Well, maybe Jolene will be coming to your concert.

DP: I have often wondered that. I don’t think that person would ever even know about the way that went down. There was no way to track it and I didn’t want to. I couldn’t take the bay and I didn’t want to be involved. I wanted the police and the people involved to know we had nothing to do with it. We just made our statement but to answer your question that was the wildest thing.

You have a huge gay following and they will always love you.

DP: Hey, a big shout out to them! We have fun with my gay crowds and we always have them. In fact we are going to California and be in LA for two days at the Hollywood Bowl then in San Francisco. All ready so many of my gay fans have said they are going to be there and be on the front row. I love it. I have always loved my gay fans. They accept me and I accept them. We get along just fine. I am very proud and honored when they dress up like me or whatever they want to do!

You are going to Australia too on this tour.

DP: Yes, actually we start our world tour in July in Knoxville. In August we go to Europe, in October we do some more shows here then in November we go to Australia to finish out the year. We are looking forward to that whole deal.

I grew up in Hendersonville.

DP: You did? I go to Hendersonville all the time! I have a lake house out in that area.

I went to church with Johnny Cash and Hendersonville Baptist Church.

DP: Okay, you son of a Baptist!

(laughs) Are there new additions to Dollywood down there?

DP: You want to audition for Dollywood?

No, new things this year at Dollywood.

DP: I thought you wanted to audition. I can get you a job there (laughs). But yeah, actually this year we added we added a new ride called the Barnstormer. It is pretty scary. We got several great rides that the kids love. We have excellent food and music. We have some of everything at that park. I am very proud of Dollywood. We have been in business for our 26th year now. Through that we have our Imagination Library with the Dolly Parton Foundation there where we give books away to children. We have been doing that for many years now. We have given out about 40 million books to children from the day they are born once a month until they start kindergarten. It is nice, warm, wonderful feeling to be able to do something for the kids.

Is the Barnstormer like the planes they used to have at Opryland?

DP: It is based on the old planes that they used to fly around and drop down in the air circuses and all of that. It is based on that but not an airplane really.

I have to check that out.

DP: Yeah, you do. Everybody says it’s scary so that brings a lot of business in. It has been our most popular so far.

Is there going to be a Broadway show or movie about your life?

DP: Yes, there is, both hopefully. I have always wanted to write my life story as a musical for stage. I have been working on that for a few years. There is no set time. It is just when I am done and ready to start doing that. I would also like to do a movie that has music in it. The things I am writing for the stage would be a lot of original music with a few of the hits. I am working on that behind the scenes. I am not in a big hurry. I can’t do my life story when I haven’t lived it all yet.

I heard that Kristen Chenoweth would be your choice to play you.

DP: Kristen is the person I would love to play me onstage. Who knows who might do the movie version? We will see at the time.

Keep your fingers crossed and Parton’s Better Day Tour arrives at the Thompson Boling Arena in Knoxville on July 17. Check out her website http://www.dollyparton.com for information about it and her new music.


Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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