Dolly Parton has written more than 3,000 songs. She plays guitar, banjo, fiddle, autoharp, piano, dulcimer, harmonica, and — according to Wikipedia — even saxophone. She has her own theme park, Dollywood. In addition to winning Grammys, CMAs, and AMAs, she’s been nominated for the Oscars, Emmys, and Tonys. She’s been married to her husband, Carl, since 1966. There are bridges in Alabama and Tennessee that are commonly referred to as “the Dolly Parton bridge,” given their generously proportioned arches. There’s no one else in the world quite like Dolly.
Dolly was born to, in her words, a “dirt poor” sharecropper family in a one-room cabin in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, the fourth of twelve children. She was performing by age 10, and recording and playing on the Grand Ole Opry stage by 13. And she hasn’t slowed down since.
Dolly is now 73 years old, an age at which many performers are content to sit back and let others sing their namesake tributes to them. Not Dolly. When the Grammys rolled out their tribute to Dolly last weekend, she was front and center. Though she was flanked by some of country and pop’s biggest singing powerhouses, she wasn’t outsung by a one of them. Dolly went ahead and stole her own show.
Kacey Musgraves and Katy Perry — joined by Dolly herself a few verses in — kick it off with a sweet rendition of “Here We Come Again.” Katy Perry’s bell-bottomed pantsuit is itself an homage to Dolly. Though Kacey’s outfit is also on point, it lacks the necessary glitz of Katy’s shameless waterfall of gold fringe. It even has sequined applique roses on the butt.
The standing ovation starts near the beginning. I wonder: Are those who aren’t standing the entire time (hi Christina Aguilera!) just wearing terribly uncomfortable heels? For I can imagine no other explanation. Because next Dolly’s joined by goddaughter Miley Cyrus for a pitch-perfect duet of “Jolene.” It’s so good I don’t even mind that Miley forgot her shirt again.
After “Jolene,” Dolly and Miley add Maren Morris for Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.” The three women harmonize beautifully, with Miley remaining understated as she and Maren perfectly complement Dolly’s sweet soprano at the center of it all. As she leaves the stage, Miley says, “You’re the best, Aunt Dolly,” and we all know she speaks truth.
Next, country superstars Little Big Town join Dolly on “Red Shoes,” one of the new songs she wrote for the Dumplin’ soundtrack. Naturally, all the ladies wear red shoes — and the boys of the band wisely know to stay in the background, where they presently belong. One of them wears a vintage Dolly t-shirt. Dolly’s voice soars.
By the time the full ensemble joins her for a rollicking “9 to 5,” the crowd of front-row-center A-listers are universally smiling and on their feet. That said, most of them have been grooving and singing along through most of the performance. When you can count people like Beck, Brandi Carlile, Smokey Robinson, an Asian boy band I’m far too old to be familiar with who are undoubtedly international superstars, Mark Ronson, and St. Vincent as ecstatic fans, you’ve clearly got it going on. Even at the age of 73.
Somehow, I don’t doubt that Dolly will be singing, playing, and shimmying onstage for another decade at least. She hasn’t lost a bit of her sparkle. Maybe she’ll be 90 and still rocking those fringe- and rhinestone-heavy ensembles and that giant mane of blonde hair. If anyone can do it, Dolly can.
This is likely to be the smilingest 10 minutes you’ll have today. Enjoy.