A new podcast from Jad Abumrad and WNYC Studios, “Dolly Parton’s America,” is premiering now. The nine-part podcast series retraces the steps to Dolly’s near-universal appeal and turns the mirror around to discover what America’s collective adoration reflects and reveals about us beginning this week. Among those interviewed on the podcast about Dolly and her universal appeal are Jane Fonda, Ralph Emery, Rhiannon Giddons, Gloria Steinem, and more.
Hosted by Nashville native Abumrad, creator of the award-winning WNYC Studios podcast Radiolab, “Dolly Parton’s America” leads us on a journey that starts in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and then heads off to the hills of Nairobi, the mountains of Lebanon, a classroom in East Tennessee, a red carpet premiere in the United Kingdom, and back to Nashville to investigate Jad’s own father’s journey to America. Along the way, the series moves far beyond Dolly’s biography to dig deep into personal, political and philosophical questions about feminism, faith, migration, immigration, workers’ rights, the South, the American Dream, and the universal longing for home.
The series features intimate recollections and insights from a range of people in the “Dollyverse”—starting with Dolly herself. Culled from over 12 hours of interviews, Dolly opens up on her life, her music, her business empire, faith, politics, and the afterlife. The series takes listeners behind the scenes with her at the London premiere of 9 to 5 the Musical, and revisits the awkward moment at the 2017 Emmys when Fonda and Lily Tomlin got political, and Dolly deflected with a boob joke. She opens up on why she adamantly refuses to take public stands on political issues, even at a time when everyone is expected to have an opinion and take a side. And in the her most personal revelation, Dolly describes the moment she found God in an abandoned church, and the one time she contemplated suicide.
“I grew up in Nashville, where Dolly is practically on every street corner, smiling down from countless billboards, practically infusing the air,” said Abumrad. “She was so ubiquitous that I didn’t think about her much. But in the past few years, as her stature has grown and as America has become so culturally and politically divided, I found myself thinking about Dolly all over again. I mean, she’s such a singular figure. As a songwriter, she’s almost Mozart level. As a performer, she manages to speak to so many different audiences at once. And as an entertainer, she’s been in the public eye so long that she’s intersected nearly every social and cultural movement in America over the last 50 years. With ‘Dolly Parton’s America,’ I wanted to use Dolly’s incredible life story and discography as a lens to observe our country at this particular moment in time.”
“Dolly Parton’s America” widens its lens to include over 50 voices that illuminate, contextualize, and in some cases, challenge conventional notions of what Dolly’s story represents. Listeners hear from family and friends, business associates, country music insiders, Appalachian and Nashville commentators and academics, and of course, the multitudes of fans who find common cause in her music.
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