If they decide to come for Dolly...

By Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 6/29/24

In this week's From the Mound, the writer asks who could be next if cancel culture attacks Dolly Parton

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If they decide to come for Dolly...


“For the lonely, for the ashamed
The misunderstood, and the ones to blame
What if we could start over?
We could start over, we could start over”
“God Only Knows” — For King & Country

Released in 2018, “God Only Knows” became the first song for For King & Country to reach the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 94. It reached No. 2 on Christian music charts, but it’s rare to get a religious-based song that crosses over to reach the general music list.

The song revolves around someone who is reaching out to people who are feeling downtrodden or hurt and encouraging them to find God for someone who truly understands the tough stuff of life without judgment.

The Smallbone brothers, Luke and Joel, who began the group, chose to take the song across genres, pairing with Timbaland for a remix of the song before they struck gold by doing a collaboration with one of the all-time great musical artists, Dolly Parton.

It was the version with Dolly that would eventually reach the top 100.

While Dolly’s voice and presence adds a lot to the video that the group produced for her collaboration with them, it’s the genuine feel of a woman who has done so much for others being part of that video that really allowed it to go viral to many who would never consider the group’s music otherwise. The YouTube video for the song has been viewed more than 15 million times.

Recently, Dolly has taken some heat after Federalist writer Ericka Andersen attempted to attract some clicks by attacking Dolly’s general love and forgiveness for all people of all backgrounds and her inclusive work across gender, racial, and economic lines that often define so many others.

Andersen's headline and article, “There’s nothing loving about Dolly Parton’s false gospel,” uses Bible verses (often significantly misinterpreted and out of context, but popularly used in such ways by groups bent on utilizing the Bible to extend rhetoric of exclusion and difference) to question Dolly’s willingness to be loving and inclusive to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Of course, anyone who has followed Dolly over her nearly 70-year career as a performing artist would quickly realize two things about the musical icon; she likes things big (hair, voice, laugh, other things…) and she is one of the most genuine people on the planet.

As a recording artist, she’s had 25 singles reach the top spot on the Billboard country music chart, tied for the most of any female artist, and she’s charted more than 100 singles in her illustrious career. She did most of that with songs that she composed, generously passing off many of those songs to other artists to find success even after she’d made her stamp on them.

She’s starred in multiple movies, earning award nominations, owns theme parks and dinner theater venues, and she’s arguably one of the most impactful philanthropists alive today.

So where did this controversy start?

Dolly has long been one of the most revered artists by drag performers, with potentially only Cher and Liza Minnelli being in the same realm as far as that community is concerned.

Her unabashed use of makeup, wigs, and plastic surgery to enhance her outward appearance has been an encouragement to many that you can use the tools of the world to improve what you see in the mirror if you’re not seeing yourself when you look in the mirror.

More importantly, Dolly loves everyone. Full stop.

She first performed at the Grand Ole Opry at 13 years of age, and immediately bolted for Nashville upon graduating high school. She did, however, end up in a bad record deal that sent her career into multiple wrong turns before joining The Porter Wagoner Show and getting his record company to take her on.

Even then, she struggled with the box that Wagoner attempted to put her into alongside him, rather than letting her express herself.

Her mega-hit, “I Will Always Love You” was written about her feelings toward a person who was stifling her professional success. Not exactly what you hear when Dolly (or later Whitney Houston) belts out the memorable, “But above all this/I wish you love,” is it?

Many want to point to her dress, her makeup and big hair, or her surgically-enhanced body as a ploy to bring in male fans and/or to attract men on the road. Yet, she’s been married for nearly 60 years to Carl Dean, having wed in 1966, when Parton was 20.

While he’s never been one to seek the spotlight, those who know Dolly beyond the professional stage rave about their genuine love and support for one another.

She’s experienced poverty, as one of 12 children in her family, with her father working often three jobs just to attempt to support the family farm, which was eventually lost when Parton was in her teens. Many of the lyrics in her song “Fancy” are autobiographical, discussing how her mother used money to purchase a fancy dress for her to perform in, hoping Dolly could find success and potentially earn income to support the family.

Because of her background, Dolly has always sided with loving people. Not a political position, not a religious position, just genuine love and care for all.

That’s led to her starting one of the most impactful literacy programs of any philanthropist, Imagination Library. Children can sign up and receive one new book per month from birth until entering Kindergarten. Through the charity, she has donated more than 100 million books.

She’s avoided entering the political sphere, but she’s also not backed away when her partnership with someone has turned controversial. Many recall earlier this year that Parton was one of the first country artists to come out in support of the album that Beyonce made, exploring country music. Of course, Dolly has recorded pop and rock albums in her years, so she certainly was going to encourage an artist exploring other genres and not being confined to any particular “box.”

When asked about her faith, she has said that she is Christian at her core, but rather than weaponize her faith, she goes the other direction.

In a 2023 interview, she quipped, “I ain’t that good a Christian to think that I am so good that I can judge people. That’s God’s job, not mine. So as far as politics, I hate politics.”

…and frankly, that’s not changed in her 78 years on the planet, which is why people adore her. In a world that is increasingly divided and finding reasons to differ from one another, Dolly finds reasons to love.

For what it’s worth, Andersen has stepped back from her article, stating, “I regret using Dolly as the example for the point I was making in the article. Dolly is one of the few people who is beloved by all and who loves all. The world is lucky to have her.”

In the midst of the initial controversy, one Twitter/X user posted, “They came for Dolly. We ride at dawn.”

Certainly a funny joke, but if someone whose genuine care and love for all can come into question as Dolly has, is there really anyone among us who can claim being truly “good?”