Whenever we travel, especially to foreign countries, people ask us where we are from. We answer proudly “Tennessee”! But if we detect a hesitancy as they process our answer, we only have to say a couple of words about famous singers like Elvis and Dolly Parton, and we get a head nod and a reassuring “Oh, sure” from them.
We let West Tennessee claim the hip-gyrating, crooning Elvis as their singer of choice, but here in East Tennessee, everyone not only claims but also LOVES the one and only Dolly Parton.
It was her gift of song, of course, that popularized this now-iconic blonde vocalist who has enriched our lives with movies, music, and a theme park in Gatlinburg known as Dollywood. Songs like “9 to 5,” “Jolene,” and “Coat of Many Colors” are loved — and sung — by adults and children alike. Most recently, upon the death of her good friend Kenny Rogers with whom she recorded “Islands in the Stream,” Dolly hit a chord with TV viewers as she teared-up with admiration for her dear friend saying “I will always love you.”
Not only, however, is Dolly famous for songs delivered as only Dolly can; she’s also known for creating Imagination Library, a program that mails books once a month, free, to any child from birth to five years old in Tennessee and many places around the world. Today her website posts the total of 1,551,840 kids who have received the 133,899,247 books mailed through Imagination Library, and the number keeps on growing.
Reading is such a big part of who Dolly is that she is now reading bedtime stories to children on Thursday nights in a new virtual series called “Goodnight with Dolly.“
Thanks, Dolly, for the many songs we sing along with you and for giving children the gift of reading that will enrich generations to come.
Your songs — and books — give us wings!
Photo at top: Mural of Dolly Parton in an alley adjacent to Market Square in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee.