Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Will Always Love Dolly Parton

I have always loved Dolly Parton. I grew up with her voice and her songs, but also her wigs and her body. While I'm not the sort of person who becomes a fan, I do feel drawn to certain types of voices--and Parton's is one of those unique voices that crushes me with its authenticity. There's nothing fake about Dolly Parton, and I guess that's why it doesn't matter how she changes her exterior.

If you've seen interviews with her, you'll know what I mean. I remember an interview after the Kennedy Center Honors when she defended Jessica Simpson, who botched her performance of Parton's "9 to 5". Parton talked about nerves and how difficult the wordy song is to sing, which most people would say doesn't let Simpson off the hook; but until you've been a singer on stage, you don't know the horror of forgetting the words. Parton has proven again and again what a gracious, humble person she is. I have always loved Dolly Parton.

Recently I was in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with my parents. The last time I was there was 40 years ago, long before Dollywood. We didn't go to Dollywood this time, but we did go to The Dixie Stampede. Now--as you well know--I've lived in Germany for almost 18 years and have spent the last 15 years traveling the globe, so to say The Dixie Stampede shocked me with my own culture is to put it lightly. I think my roots might be a bit loose in their Southern soil. The Stampede is a dinner show. Dinner was more food than three people could eat, mostly meat and potatoes that you're expected to eat with your hands. I think the concept was farm-style cowhand grub, which is fine. They even had a gluten-free plate for me. And I've just noticed on another web site that there was apparently a vegetarian option.

I don't mean to write a review of The Dixie Stampede here, but the evening was delightful, with lots of horse tricks and pig races and humor. Lots of humor. It was a down-home celebration of country life and country food. I wish there had been more vegetables on the menu, but which vegetables can you eat with your fingers? The vegetarian option looks like it requires a fork. A difficult call. But, again, I'm not really here to review the evening. I'm more interested in telling you what I learned that night.

At the end of the show, The Dixie Stampede donated over $200,000 to the Dollywood Foundation--the first time I'd heard of this. My parents, though, knew all about it.

"She gives every child in Sevier County under the age of 5 a book every month." My mother, when she's bursting with pride, gets tearful.

"That's . . . wow," I said. I have always loved Dolly Parton.

And then I started reading up on Parton's Imagination Library. It's not just Sevier County now; it's spreading abroad to the UK and Canada, not to mention hundreds and hundreds of other US counties. If the information I've read is correct, the Dollywood Foundation has given away 40,000,000 books so far.

Parton herself says the purpose of the Imagination Library is "to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income." (from the Imagination Library web site)

Did you know that Dolly Parton has written over 3000 songs? She writes every day, something I wish I could say. And she cares about the education of children, and she has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. I'm so glad my parents took me to the Smoky Mountains over Thanksgiving to give me a little taste of home. My Southern roots have been a bit loose lately; but after learning more about an artist from my home state whom I respect, they've dug in a little deeper.

I have always loved Dolly Parton. I'm off right now to make a donation to the Imagination Library. I hope you will too. Here's the DONATION link.

I must be off,
Christopher