Words by Grace Curtis
Country superstar Dolly Parton has made the headlines twice recently. First, for her insistence that the plans to erect a statue of her at the Tennessee capitol are inappropriate at the current moment, “given all that is going on in the world”.
On March 3rd she went viral again for an improvised rendition of a vaccination song, to the tune of her iconic hit Jolene, that she performed while being injected with the Moderna vaccine. Not only was this a glorious message for vaccine sceptics, Moderna is the life-saving Covid-19 jab that may not have happened without a generous $1 million donation from Dolly Parton herself.
It is no secret that Ms. Parton is experiencing something of a renaissance in popularity recently. The fascinating 2019 podcast Dolly Parton’s America tried to explain her resurgence in admiration from Millennial and Gen Z fans. They suggested that it was her cultural role as a ‘great unifier’ that was increasingly appealing, particularly during a time of mounting political conflict and polarisation.
It is also true that, despite writing some of the most lauded American songs of all time, Dolly Parton has never been content with simply being a brilliant song writer. Her commitment to philanthropy must be commended.
This is why, to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, I wanted to write about Dolly Parton as my greatest role model in the music industry. More people need to know about how she has delivered more than 40,000 books to children in need in the UK alone though her Imagination Library, a successful campaign to end worldwide childhood illiteracy.
I have long been a fan of Dolly Parton, but for some reason my relationship to her music has grown from strength to strength since March 2020. Dolly Parton’s America gave me an idea of why this may have happened. Episode four charts how the presenter, Jad Abumrad, connects Dolly’s message of nostalgia for her childhood home in the hit song My Tennessee Mountain Home, with his own history as a child of refugees from Lebanon.
Despite having vastly different life experiences, Abumrad talks about how the longing for home that bleeds through the lyrics of that song are relatable to anyone who misses the place that they came from, or who doesn’t quite feel at home in the place they are now.
I think this is why Dolly’s music has connected to so many people during the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular. For almost everyone I know, home feels slightly different these days. Without being able to freely see family or friends, people will be drawn to any song that can evoke the warm, nostalgic feelings of feeling safe at home, surrounded by the people you love.
For University students, many of whom feel torn between their student accommodations and childhood homes, this message could be even more profound. As writer Helen Morales said on the podcast, for people who are struggling with their sense of home, listening to an artist like Dolly can have a comforting effect. “Eventually, home is in the music”.
For me, Dolly’s music has become a significant comfort during lockdown. Not only that, but her philanthropic efforts are often the only silver lining on a bleak day of breaking news. For that, I believe that she should be loudly celebrated this International Women’s Day.