Dolly Parton!, the Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist astounds with her music, movies, business acumen—and sparkly clothes! The LA Beat was lucky enough to catch a sneak preview of “Diamonds in a Rhinestone World: The Costumes of Dolly Parton” at the Grammy Museum, and to be in attendance at the exclusive conversation between badass Songwriter, Record Producer, and former Frontwoman of band 4 Non Blondes, Linda Perry, and the dazzling country singer this past week.
Both women are powerhouses. When Parton pointed out Perry’s hat (tall and noir-colored!) and her own shoes (open-toed clear mules with black stilettos!), I knew nothing could stop either of these award-winning songwriters from making the evening a night to remember.
Perry collaborated on several of Parton’s songs for the soundtrack of the 2018 film, “Dumplin’,” about a curvy teen who enters a beauty contest. The film is one example among many of Parton’s forward-thinking approach to living; her film roles include a sexually harassed secretary in 1980’s “9 to 5,” a madam in 1982’s “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” and an imaginary mom who dispenses advice on the radio about how to achieve racial equality and sexual openness in 2011’s “The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom.”
Parton’s manner of talking and dressing signifies how she moves through life: with sparkling wit, talent, and style. She once said she leaves no rhinestone unturned, and she’ll cheerfully admit she wears the same thing more than once—indeed, I spied her sexy shoes in more than one of the exhibited photographs. (I’d wear those marvelous mules more than once, too!) Her essential sense of taste might be missed amidst the bling, but her stylish grace is a true and enduring current I felt in her presence—one that can be heard in her voice as well as seen in her costumes. For example, as she told us during her appearance at the Grammy Museum, she doesn’t regret anything in her life, even the so-called mistakes or “failures.” When things don’t go the way she expected or wanted, she doesn’t see it as a failure. She believes in examining events and learning from them—but then letting them go and moving on, and that as long as you don’t hurt anyone there is nothing to regret. She also said that when she’s been hurt she doesn’t harden her heart, but wants to stay soft and open, so she strengthens the muscles around her heart.
When she and an adolescent fan from the audience sang a cappella a few lines from the fan’s favorite song, 1973’s “Jolene,” my favorite Dolly Parton song when I was a young girl also, Parton’s voice moved with such a purity and intensity, singing the words she wrote with such a delicate expression of deep emotion that it made me cry. And then I laughed when Parton complimented the young fan’s bling (she was wearing black sequined pants and a gold gleaming hat that matched Parton’s color scheme that evening), swatting the child on the rump as Parton sent her on her way. And that’s the key to Dolly Parton—she can bring you to tears and then make you laugh it all away. In fact, Perry had opened the talk by observing how Parton makes her feel: covered in sunshine on every inch of her skin. Perry also insightfully observed the precision of Parton’s storytelling in her songwriting narratives, and Parton explained, “I’m a writer.”
The feminist icon who starred in a movie with #MeToo themes over half a century before #MeToo began told us she’s not a feminist. Parton grew up one of twelve kids, half of them boys. She told us she knows what boys and men are like and that they know Dolly can “whoop their ass.” Parton extricated herself from “The Porter Wagoner Show,” which catapulted her career during the late 1960s, by writing a song for the show’s namesake: “I Will Always Love You.” As feminists, we can learn a thing or two from Parton. Her magnificent poise, talents, and strength sparkle, as do the costumes in this amazing exhibition.
“Diamond in a Rhinestone World: The Costumes of Dolly Parton,” Parton’s first exhibit outside of “Dollywood”—her theme park and resorts with a museum in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee—includes music video clips, a gorgeous velvet painting by Kii Arens, a series of backlit album covers, photographs, musical instruments, and selected costumes spanning Dolly’s illustrious career, beginning with Porter’s show through today.
Parton said that each costume is special to her, no matter how plain, because each costume represents an experience. But her most beloved costume stays in “Dollywood,” Parton said, so we’ll have to go there to check out what she wore to receive her 2006 Kennedy Center Honors! Parton performs a femininity that she’s constructed, her “Backwoods Barbie” persona begun as a youngster when she admired the sexy gaudiness of sex workers. She’s not shy about talking cosmetic surgery, either. When asked why she seems so happy, she says that it’s the Botox.
Parton was honored with the MusiCares Person of the Year Award on Friday, February 8, 2019.
“Diamond in a Rhinestone World: The Costumes of Dolly Parton” runs at the Grammy Museum from February 5 through March 17, 2019. Grammy Museum 800 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90015 – (213) 765-6800
Lucretia Tye Jasmine has also written an article on Dolly Parton for Evelyn McDonnell’s anthology, “Women Who Rock: From Bessie to Beyoncé, Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl” (2018).