February 25, 2019

Dolly Parton – famous for her music, her enhanced curves and her over-the-top country girl persona – may seem like an unlikely feature for a business blog on candor. Yet I find her to be authentic and inspiring. Buried not so far beneath the big hair, cosmetic surgery, and outlandish fashion is someone who knows exactly who she is, speaks clearly about where she came from and the choices she’s made, and is committed to creating positive change in the world. And Parton handles nearly everything with an admirable mix of humility and feistiness.

Last week, Parton was celebrated as the Grammy Awards’ 2019 MusiCares Person of the Year. Parton was the first country artist to ever be selected for this award, and her recognition highlighted two notable philanthropic endeavors: raising money for residents of eastern Tennessee (“Those are my people,” says Parton) in the wake of the disastrous wildfires, and Imagination Library, a world-wide literacy program that provides free books to children under age 5. Parton’s remarks during her acceptance speech were filled with the candor and humor that make her endearing, relatable and respected.

On Her Often-Mocked Physique

She jokes about being known her whole life for two things.

“Not them,” she says, referring to her bust, “I’ve also been known as a singer and songwriter, too… Everybody always expects me to do a boob joke and I like to do that right up front.”

On Feminism

When mentioning the early years of her career being considered a “man’s world,” Parton acknowledged that was true, but also described how she navigated it.

“It sure was, and buddy I had a ball because I have actually worked with so many wonderful men and I’ve never met a man I didn’t like and I’ve never met a man whose ass I couldn’t kick if he didn’t treat me with the right respect.”

On Teamwork and Acknowledgement

“There’s a saying that there’s no limit to what can be done if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. That’s a hard thing to do is give up your credit.”

On Her Legacy

“I want to be known more for books than looks in my life… I started that little program [Imagination Library] because of my dad who could not read nor write but he was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known in spite of that… I’ve often wondered what my daddy might have been if he’d been able to read and write.”

Parton doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. She’s set to reprise her famous feminist role in a sequel to the 1980 movie, Nine to Five. In her own words, Parton says, “It’s a long long way from the hills of east Tennessee to the Hollywood Hills.” And she’s honoring who she is and how she’s arrived every step of the way.