Dolly is beloved as the ultimate songstress, cultural icon, and record breaker. We’re not surprised she recently topped Forbes’ list of wealthiest self-made women in America. Yes, confetti is falling from the ceiling! Fellow “Tennessee Mountain Trance” native, Jad Abumrad, was intrigued with Dolly’s creative and career trajectory, and was further enthralled after attending one of her shows. He likened Dolly’s performance and her diverse audience’s reactions to an inclusive ground of worship. Jad wanted to learn more about how Dolly and her brand go beyond music and boob jokes, and for fans, Dolly’s presence becomes a unifying force in America.
WNYC Studios and OSM Audio present “Dolly Parton’s America,” a 9-episode deep dive into why the Dollyverse is more than a pop culture phenomenon. Jad unearths dozens of rabbit holes to investigate. In the podcast series, Jad realizes Dolly’s career opens questions and commentary on America as a whole, as the lyrical content of her songs, since 1967, have foreshadowed modern conversations. And Dolly is still considered one of America’s sweethearts.
Jad’s life serendipitously crossed with Dolly’s when his dad, a medical doctor, consulted with her at the hospital after her car accident in 2013. Dolly and Jad’s dad struck an unlikely friendship, and finally, Jad met Dolly. In the course of the series, Jad discovers the Dollyverse contains more than meets the eye. This podcast begs the question of how Dolly crosses dividing boundaries? When can she be nominated for secular sainthood? And how do her fans consistently stay on board with her brand?
In 2017, Dolly agreed to speak with Jad in Nashville. Jad plays Dolly selections from her “Sad Ass Songs” in the first episode and asks her to comment on their stories. Listeners learn Dolly flipped the script on Appalachian “murder ballads,” singing from perspectives of victimized women. In her songs, the lyrical content is about heartbreak, emotional distress, a suicide, abortion, and a husband committing his wife to an asylum, just to name a few topics. Dolly continues to sing about woman’s issues and empowerment, yet on the podcast, she says she does not self-identify as a feminist.
The second episode returns to Dolly’s “Porter years” when she was discovered by TV personality Porter Wagoner who scouted female talent for his show. Listeners learn how she worked through this partnership and decided to move on. Jad brings listeners to Dollywood on the third episode, a replica of Dolly’s childhood home. They discuss nostalgia, authenticity in art, and meet with super-fans. “Kenyan Dolly” calls in from Nairobi with her rendition of “Tennessee Mountain Home.” Dolly returns home on the fourth episode, which also triggers a flood of childhood memories for Jad. Politics and Dolly collide with her songs like “9 to 5” and the theme she wrote for a labor union-based film. Yet, in “Dollitics,” Dolly refuses to share her political beliefs because she does not want to alienate any of her current or future fans.
A complete episode is dedicated to “Jolene,” and we hear from fans on what Dolly’s music means to them. We learn from a country music scholar and professors who study Dolly and even teach courses about her at universities. Sign us up! By the podcast’s final episode, Dolly expresses what faith means to her and how she believes “church is in our hearts.”
“Dolly Parton’s America” is a particularly interesting listen since Dolly herself shares stories firsthand. Folks from the music industry and people from Dolly’s life are also interviewed, such as country musicians Marty Stuart and Wagonmaster Buck Trent. There are two bonus music episodes featuring songs from country and bluegrass musicians, which are also worth the listen.
All 9 episodes of “Dolly Parton’s America” are now available to stream.