In this intensely divided moment, one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America’s great icons. Join us for a 9-episode journey into the Dollyverse. Hosted by Jad Abumrad. Produced and reported by Shima Oliaee. Dolly Parton’s America is a production from OSM Audio and WNYC Studios.
As Dolly will tell you, so much of who she is - her creativity, her music, her stance on life - emanates from her faith, but what exactly is that faith? The answer is deeply surprising. In this episode, Dolly tells a story of finding God in an abandoned church filled with X-rated graffiti. And she speaks of her plans for how she'll be remembered after she’s gone—how her voice will live on for the next 50, 100, 200 years.
Traveling Creatures: live music from the series
In this second bonus music episode, we play two live songs we recorded, sung by bluegrass musicians Nora Brown and Amythyst Kiah.
You can find Nora on facebook @norabrownbanjo, instagram @little.nb, and her music at jalopyrecords.org and on Spotify.
Amythyst is on facebook, instagram, and twitter at @amythystkiah, and her music can be found at amythystkiah.com.
This episode delves into the controversy surrounding Dolly Parton’s Stampede (formerly known as “Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede”)—a dinner theater that presents the Civil War as a friendly competition between neighbors. In the wake of the Charlottesville Riots in 2017, the Dixie Stampede was called out by the press, and then became embroiled in the larger national conversation about Civil War monuments and the white-washing of history. Dolly’s business conglomerate decided to eliminate “Dixie” from the name, which caused further uproar.
Dolly embodies “a quivering mass of irreconcilable contradictions” in a way very few other American figures do… but has America arrived at a place where such contradictions are no longer defensible or tolerable?
Dolly Parton's America
At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, we drop in on a history class called “Dolly Parton’s America.” (We borrowed the name for our series!) Taught by Dr. Lynn Sacco, the class is filled with college students who grew up in rural Appalachia, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Dr Sacco gives the class an assignment: Write an essay that answers the question “What is Dolly Parton’s America?” Lurking just behind that question are thornier ones about Southern shame and identity and hillbillies and football and...well, Dolly. Is Dolly helping or hurting us? The class splits down the middle.
Editor’s Note: We made two corrections to this podcast, originally released on December 3. In referring to the location of the Battle of Blair Mountain, we changed “Southwestern Virginia” to “West Virginia.” And on the origin of the term redneck, we inserted narration that makes clear that the etymology of the term goes back farther than the Battle of Blair Mountain.
Dolly's Wildflowers: live music from the series
Music performed by:
Justin Hiltner (@hiltnerj, http://justinhiltner.com) Esther Konkara (@esther_konkara) Steph Jenkins (@slhjenkins, http://www.stephaniejenkins.info) Stephanie Coleman (@stephiecoleman) Courtney Hartman (@courthartman, https://www.courtneyhartman.com) Shelley Washington (@shelleyplaysaxy, http://shelleywashington.com) Bora Yoon (@borabot, http://borayoon.com) Caroline Shaw (@caroshawmusic, https://carolineshaw.com)
Recordings from National Sawdust were part of the NationalSawdust+ series: Elena Park is the curator of NationalSawdust+ Special thanks to recording engineer Garth MacAleavey, Jeff Tang, Charles Hagaman, and everyone at National Sawdust. Thanks also to Alex Overington and Jeremy Bloom for mix engineering.
The Only One For Me, Jolene
One of Dolly’s most iconic and successful songs is “Jolene,” a song that, at first listen, is about a romantic rival trying to steal her man: a prime example of the classic “cheating song.” But some see it as flipping a popular country music trope on its head. This idea takes shape when Nadine Hubbs, a professor at the University of Michigan, writes a fourth verse to “Jolene," which makes us reimagine Dolly's songs in entirely new ways.