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Country Music Hall Of Fame Member Dolly Parton Is Busier Than Ever
By Deborah Evans Price   © 2006 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

As she enters her sixth decade, Dolly Parton could easily rest on her laurels. She’s one of the world’s most recognizable entertainers, film stars, and a hugely successful singer and songwriter. 

Having accomplished so much gives Parton creative freedom, so on her current album she turned her attention to reinventing some of her favorite songs. Her new album on Sugar Hill Records, Those Were The Days, features Parton covers of classic hits, most from the 1960s and 70s, including Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind," John Lennon’s "Imagine," Johnny Mathis’ “Twelfth Of Never” and Pete Seeger’s "Where Have All The Flowers Gone." 

"Being an artist and writing my own songs, people expect me just to do my stuff," said Parton, who recorded and produced the album in Nashville. "But as a singer and an admirer of other writers, I wanted to find a way to try to get to sing these songs, because of all that's been going on. Plus I'm getting a little bit sassier as I get a little older. So I just went for it."

Parton includes several widescreen orchestrations featuring strings and choir, arranged by Tom Howard. She enlisted the help of an eclectic group of collaborators, among them Judy Collins, Norah Jones, Alison Krauss, Roger McGuinn, Joe Nichols, Nickel Creek, Mindy Smith, Dan Tyminski, Keith Urban, Rhonda Vincent and Lee Ann Womack. Kris Kristofferson injects his weathered vocals into Parton’s take on his classic "Me And Bobby McGee," and Tommy James sings and plays guitar on the 1969 hit "Crimson And Clover." Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, plays acoustic guitar on the remake of his 1970 hit "Where Do The Children Play." 

Parton chose the songs because they had long been favorites of hers and because she felt they were relevant to current times. "That was what was great about songs like ‘Blowing In The Wind.’ I mean, does that not exactly say what is going on now? 'The Cruel War' was written about the Civil War, just talking about the situation of the girls being left behind and the boys going to battle. And ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone,’ that's so right on the money now, with lots of young men going to graveyards,” Parton said. “It doesn't matter what war it is or what kind of trouble's going on in the world. These songs offer hope, and they speak to the times."

Parton’s guests are enthusiastic about Those Were the Days.

"It's always a thrill to work with Dolly," said Vincent, who along with Collins, contributed vocals to "Both Sides Now,” a Joni Mitchell-penned tune that became Collins’ signature song. “I love and admire her, and I'm continually amazed at her involvement in so many aspects of the music business. She always creates something unique and exciting with each new recording project. I am always honored and thankful for the opportunity to sing with the incredible Dolly Parton."

Joe Nichols agreed. "Being in the studio with Dolly was like a baseball fan getting to play catch with Mickey Mantle," he said.

Parton said she admired Nichols’ “beautiful low voice."

"So I thought, Well, we'll just be Johnny (Cash) and June (Carter Cash). That's why that one made sense as a duet." 

Lee Ann Womack was equally thrilled to contribute on “Where Have All The Flowers Gone.” 

“I never had a sister that could sing with me and I always thought that would be fun,” she said. “Singing with Dolly feels like I do.”

Parton has transcended her humble East Tennessee roots to become a legend. One of 12 children, she graduated high school on a Friday night and moved to Nashville on Saturday morning. On her first day in town, she met Carl Dean. The two have been married nearly 40 years.

arton’s first Top 40 hit was in 1967 with "Dumb Blonde," but she really gained national acclaim appearing with Porter Wagoner on his popular TV show, where her pretty voice, big bouffant hair and heartfelt songs made her a favorite with Country Music viewing audiences. After a painful professional split with Wagoner, Parton forged a successful solo career with hits including "Here You Come Again," "Love Is Like A Butterfly" and "I Will Always Love You," which Whitney Houston revived in the film "The Bodyguard," and turned into a monster hit.

Parton starred in a string of films, among them “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas,” “Rhinestone,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Nine To Five.” She went on to open a theme park, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., which provides much-needed jobs in the area. Parton has also helped her home region through various charitable endeavors. In an effort to raise literacy, the Dollywood Foundation launched a program giving each child born in Parton’s native Sevier County a book a month until they start kindergarten. The program is now in 540 communities in 41 states and Parton takes great pride in being known as "the book lady." She says her late father was more proud of kids calling her “the book lady” than he was of her being a recording star.

Parton recently completed a new cookbook, featuring more than 125 recipes, to raise money for her “Imagination Library.” Advance sales for Dolly’s Dixie Fixins began April 7 and purchasers of the book will enter for a chance to win a “Backyard Barbeque and Bluegrass Festival” for 100 people featuring special guest Parton. Published by Penguin Group, 100 percent of the proceeds from sales of the cookbook will benefit Dollywood Foundation which sponsors “Imagination Library,” which will provide approximately four million books to children in 2006.

Parton shows no sign of slowing down. 

Her recent GRAMMY-winning Sugar Hill albums have tapped into Parton’s mountain/bluegrass music roots and have been well received. She plans to tap even deeper into those roots in the future with an album of gospel material. And she expects to release a book for children, I Am A Rainbow. Down the road, she’d still like to create a television show for children and launch a perfume line.

At the moment, Parton is busy writing songs for a Broadway production of “Nine To Five,” based on the 1980 movie in which she co-starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. 

She turned 60 on Jan. 19, and isn’t shy about it. In fact, Parton even played on her age to get laughs during her last concert series, “The Vintage Tour.” "We're not only from the '60s, we're in our 60s," Parton joked. "On ‘The Vintage Tour,’ I have a lot of humor from those days that I think people my age are going to get a kick out of … from letting it all hang out to trying to suck it all back in.”

Parton continues to forge ahead with her winning combination of quick wit, business savvy and creative vision. It’s a sure bet she’ll sail through her 60s fueled by the same drive and determination that made her one of the world’s best-loved entertainers. 

On the Web: www.sugarhillrecords.com, www.dollymania.net and www.DollyOn-Line.com


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