Dolly Parton celebrated a dream come true Saturday night (Oct. 12) as she marked her 50th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry by performing for sold out crowds at both the early and late Opry shows.
“I actually became a member while I was opening for the Porter Wagoner show and got to be a member 50 years ago this year,” she told the press shortly before taking the stage for her first performance of the night. “It was one of the highlights of my whole life because it was a dream of mine. I just wish that mommy and daddy could be here tonight, but I know that they are.”
While posing for photos and fielding questions from the press, Parton revealed that though this year marks her 50th anniversary as a member, she actually made her first appearance on the Opry a decade earlier. “It’s actually my 60th because the first time I got to sing on the Opry, I was 13 years old,” she said. “Johnny Cash introduced me. Jimmy C. Newman had given me his spot. My Uncle Bill and I used to drive from East Tennessee all the time. We’d get a loaf of bread and pack up some canned stuff, pork ‘n beans and potted meat and Vienna [sausages]. We’d come down to Nashville in a beat up old car, go to the Grand Ole Opry. . .That was always my dream.”
Parton’s Saturday evening performances capped off Dolly week at the Opry. The night also included performances by Bill Anderson, Jeannie Seely, Candi Carpenter, Toby Keith, Margo Price, Lady Antebellum and Hank Williams Jr. In addition to performing some of their own songs, each guest that evening also saluted Parton by performing one of her tunes.
“It feels great. It’s so exciting and so many people have stepped up to be on the show and to help me celebrate. I’ve enjoyed seeing so many friends of mine and reminiscing in the back room,” she said of the Opry House’s historic Studio A, which is the location of the “Dolly: My Opry Memories” exhibit, which runs through Oct. 31.
During the press conference, Parton alerted media to the fact that she had invited a longtime friend to join her during her performance. “A special thing I’m doing tonight is Buck Trent, one of the original Wagon Masters who played the electric banjo with Porter—all those famous licks on most of Porter’s records—I asked him to come and play tonight with me and we’ll have him on as a special guest,” Parton said.
When asked about how she chose what songs show would be singing during her anniversary celebration, Parton admitted it wasn’t an easy decision. “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 said with a mischievous laugh. “I’m just going to do the ones that people would kill me if I didn’t sing.”
Parton was in fine form as she wowed the crowd with a set that included such hits as “Joshua,” “Jolene,” “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “Here You Come Again,” “9 to 5,” and “I Will Always Love You.” She and Trent performed Wagoner’s hit “Carroll County Accident.”
“Just having people like Buck and all these friends stepping forward to just share this night with me just makes it even more special to me. It’s a dream of mine,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen in your life. You never know if your dreams are going to come true, and if they do, you always think about how people are going to remember you when you are older. I’m older and I’m seeing how people remember me and it makes me feel very humbled. I’m just very honored that I’m still around not only to get to accept this, but I can actually perform and get out there and still do what I love to do. Maybe I’ll be around another 50 years. Who knows?”
Portions of both the Friday and Saturday night Opry shows were filmed for an NBC Television special Dolly Parton: 50 Years at the Grand Ole Opry airing Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 9 p.m. EST. The special will feature interviews and performances from Parton and some of the friends who performed in her honor, among them Keith, Lady Antebellum, Price, Williams Jr., Dierks Bentley, Emmylou Harris and Chris Janson.
Parton has also been working on new music. “I have a new single coming out right after the first of the year with Zach Williams, who is one of the new Christian artists, called ‘There Was Jesus’ and then I have another song that’s going to drop right away, a few days before the CMAs, that’s called ‘Faith,’” she revealed. “This world is just so dark, ugly and awful. I just can’t believe how we can’t have a little more light, a little more love, so I’m going to make it my business to try to do songs that are more uplifting, not just all Christian-based songs, but songs that are just about better things, and just have a little more love, a little more light.”