Dolly Parton Marks 50 Years at the Grand Ole Opry With Good Friends, Iconic Hits
Dolly Parton celebrated 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night (Oct. 12), performing a selection of her biggest hits in honor of her tenure at the hallowed country music institution.
Parton's 50th Opry anniversary celebration wasn't a one-night-only affair, however: For an entire week leading up to the show, artists turned out to pay tribute to the iconic performer. As part of Saturday's bill, acts such as Lady Antebellum, Hank Williams Jr., Margo Price and more performed their own songs as well those by Parton that inspired them most. The star-studded lineup already made for a memorable evening -- complete with Toby Keith's joking rendition of "I Will Always Love You" -- but when Parton took the stage, the sold-out crowd roared with appreciation.
"When they said, 'It's your 50th anniversary, you have to do something special,' I said, 'I don't even want people to think I'm 50 years old!'" Parton joked backstage, with a flash of her trademark wit. "This is so exciting, and so many people stepped up to be on the show to help me celebrate."
In fact, some of those friends who joined Parton in celebration date back to her earliest days in the music industry, when she joined Porter Wagoner's nationally syndicated TV program, The Porter Wagoner Show. Parton invited Buck Trent, inventor of the electric banjo and a member of Wagoner's band, the Wagon Masters, to join her onstage for a song. They performed "The Carroll County Accident," one of Wagoner's signature songs.
"Having people like Buck, and all these friends, coming and stepping forward to share this night with me just makes it even more special. It's kind of a dreamlike thing," Parton explains. "You never know what's gonna happen to you in your life. You never know if your dreams are gonna come true. If they do, you wonder how people'll remember you when you're older.
"Well, I'm older. I'm seeing how people remember me, and that makes me very humbled," she continues. "I'm just very honored that I'm still around, not only just to get to accept this, but that I can actually perform and get out there and still do what I love to do."
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When it came down to the evening's setlist, Parton admits she had a tough time choosing which of her many hits to perform. "That was a hard one, because I only got 30 minutes! I mean, I've been on the Opry for 50 years and I only get 30 minutes?!" she jokes. "I'm gonna do the classics that I have to do, since I've only got 30 minutes ... I'm gonna do the ones people would kill me if I didn't sing."
Parton opened her set with "Joshua," a spirited throwback to 1970. "[It's] an old song, one of the first ones I wrote," she said backstage. "People haven't heard that one in a long time."
For the rest of her time onstage, Parton ran through her best-loved hits: "Jolene," "9 to 5," "Here You Come Again" and "Coat of Many Colors" all appeared in her setlist. Before launching into the latter, the singer brought out a rhinestone-covered dulcimer, highlighting the song's rootsy connection to her Smoky Mountains hometown and her family life growing up.
"I loved my parents growing up. Those of you in the audience that are lucky enough to have good parents, you know that that's one of the greatest gifts that God can give you," Parton said from stage, adding that though her family was poor, her parents created a home rich in love and happy memories.
"Mama, she sewed all our clothes, she cooked all our meals, she made the curtains for our windows out of feed sacks that we got from downtown," Parton recalled. "I'm not complaining, because through the years, we were poor, but those memories have made me rich -- not just in money, but in gratefulness and humbleness that I grew up just like I did."
After "Coat of Many Colors" became a hit, Parton went on to say, she went back home to her parents' house, hoping to buy something expensive for her mom as thanks for inspiring the song. "[I said], 'I wanna take you downtown to Knoxville, and I wanna buy you a mink coat,'" Parton recalled. "She said, 'A mink coat?! Where am I gonna wear a mink coat around here?' She said, 'Just give me the money.'"
Parton closed the evening with one of her most enduring hits, "I Will Always Love You." By the end of the song, several members of the audience were misty-eyed, and Parton's crowd met her last performance with a rousing standing ovation.
While Parton says that every memory she has of the Opry is special, some of the most powerful moments she's had as a performer there have come from thinking about the country artists who have yet to step into its iconic circle. "Now that I've been lucky enough to see this dream come true, I wonder if some little kid might say, 'I'm standing where Dolly Parton once stood,'" she reflects. "And I used to say, 'I'm standing where Kitty Wells once stood.'
"That's what makes you thankful. That's what makes you humble and grateful," she adds. "I've been so fortunate to see so many of my dreams come true. I don't take any of it for granted."
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