A love letter to Dolly Parton

I have a lot of love for Dolly Parton. From her music, to her style, to her sass, to her raw and unabashed joy in life. She’s kind of amazing and that’s before you know what goes on behind the scenes.

Like most people my age, I grew up with her music. I know all the words to 9 to 5 and still find it impossible not to dance around like a lunatic whenever I hear it. There’s a certain poignancy to the lyrics, though, when you set them against the backdrop of what’s going on now. Gender inequality…the pay gap…all of it. She has this amazing power of singing songs that somehow hit all the fears and frustrations that every generation experiences and doesn’t know how to change. Her love songs ache in the hearts of everyone that has experienced insecurity about themselves or about their lovers. She has a universal appeal in that respect.

I respect the hell out of her for being authentic. She created her look and she loves it and lives it and doesn’t care one jot about what anyone thinks of it. Her famous one liner says it all – “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap”. I don’t think she looks cheap. I think she looks like a fairy godmother. If you added a pair of wings and a wand, then by golly we’ll all be going to the ball! It takes a lot of guts to brazen out that kind of statement in the face of ridicule and condescension and I admire the fact that she has never backed down because Dolly loves who Dolly is. I hope that when I’m her age I can rock my own personal style as well as she rocks hers.

Completely aside from what’s on the outside, Dolly is a philanthropist and an inspiration. Aside from her charitable donations, especially in her home state of Tennessee where she financially assisted the families who lost everything in the wildfires, running telethons and setting up foundations, she has the business savvy of the finest CEOs and execs in the world. You know that saying about giving a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime? It’s clearly a resounding ethos for Dolly. She doesn’t throw money at solutions, she builds empires that prevent the problems from arising.

The theme park that she built, Dollywood, is the single largest employer in the county, driving the economy of the entire state with tourism income. It’s infrastructure that gives back to the people.

In 1995 she founded the Imagination Library, which is an effort to eradicate illiteracy. Every child in her county and some of the surrounding counties under the age of 5 gets a book in the mail every month from her library. The program has now been expanded globally to people that wish to register their children. As a writer, as a reader, as a lover of words and a mourner of illiteracy, everything in me loves that she does this. Never mind the jobs it provides and the money it feeds into the economy, she’s getting it right from the beginning for these kids. If they learn to love to read so young, their schooling will be easier; their minds will develop in more advanced ways; their imaginations will teach them that the sky is the limit.

There are so many things I could say about Dolly Parton but instead of telling you why I admire her, I suggest you go and listen to her music and read about her work and then, if there’s a small child in your life, find a book and read it with them.


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