‘Two songs are for my niece Han­nah who went through a hard time as a child with leukaemia’

Coun­try star Dolly Par­ton, has been mak­ing mu­sic for over 50 years, but she has just ful­filled a long-time dream of mak­ing a chil­dren’s al­bum.

Belfast Telegraph - - LIFE - By Kerri-Ann Roper

Dolly Par­ton’s work is never done. At 71 and af­ter a glit­ter­ing 50-year ca­reer that is un­ri­valled in coun­try mu­sic, she could eas­ily hang her rhine­stone boots up and call it a well-earned day.

But as the Queen on Coun­try says her­self, “tim­ing is ev­ery­thing” and that is ex­actly why she has now em­barked on an impressive new ad­ven­ture in her mu­sic ca­reer.

Par­ton will re­lease her first-ever chil­dren’s mu­sic al­bum, ti­tled I Be­lieve In You, and it’s been a per­sonal labour of love for the singer, who has writ­ten and per­formed all of the al­bum’s 14 tracks.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to ac­tu­ally have a chil­dren’s al­bum,” she ex­plains. “But usu­ally when you’ve got a record la­bel that’s pay­ing you big bucks and got your big con­tracts and you’ve got pro­mot­ers that are want­ing to do a tour, this and that, usu­ally the years go by and they say, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to do this or do that’, so there’s al­ways some main­stream mu­sic thing they want you to do.

“So you kinda put those nov­elty things aside, like chil­dren’s al­bums or gospel al­bums.”

It’s an­other ad­di­tion to an al­ready stag­ger­ing list of achieve­ments: Par­ton is a pub­lished au­thor (sev­eral times over) of not only fic­tion, but also cook­books.

Then there’s her theme park, Dol­ly­wood, and she’s the co-founder of San­dol­lar Pro­duc­tions, who pro­duced the Buffy The Vam­pire Slayer tele­vi­sion se­ries.

She’s sold more than 100 mil­lion records world­wide, won pretty much ev­ery sin­gle mu­sic award there is (in­clud­ing eight Gram­mys, 10 Coun­try Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion Awards and many more) and in 1999 she was in­ducted into the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame.

But at the cen­tre of all of this, there’s an­other body of her work that she pours her heart into — her char­ity, the Imag­i­na­tion Li­brary. Founded in 1995, it’s dis­trib­uted more than 100 mil­lion books to chil­dren across the globe.

“I’ve just been writ­ing songs for all th­ese years, chil­dren’s songs for my nieces and neph­ews and friends, and I’ve also been writ­ing songs through my Imag­i­na­tion Li­brary,” she ex­plains.

“When I started think­ing about what I was go­ing to do next mu­si­cally it was like a light bulb, it’s the time to do the chil­dren’s al­bum, it’s per­fect tim­ing.

“So, I think it’s the right time, plus the holidays are com­ing up and it’s a good lit­tle Christ­mas gift for kids and all the money from the al­bum goes back to the Imag­i­na­tion Li­brary to put more books into the hands of more chil­dren.”

Born Dolly Re­becca Par­ton in Ten­nessee, in the US, she was the fourth of 12 chil­dren. She mar­ried her hus­band Carl Thomas Dean in 1966, but he has very much re­mained in the back­ground and rarely steps into his wife’s lime­light.

De­spite com­ing from a large fam­ily her­self, the cou­ple have no chil­dren, which Par­ton has spo­ken about over the years, telling The Guardian in 1996 that “it wasn’t meant to be”.

Writ­ing this chil­dren’s al­bum let her em­brace her in­ner child, she says down the phone in her fa­mous ac­cent. “Well it’s more fun first of all,” she says talk­ing about writ­ing lyrics for chil­dren.

“I get to be a child, I get to think like a child. I’m very in­volved with chil­dren, I’m very close to my fam­ily — all of my nieces and neph­ews, my broth­ers and sis­ters, you know, when we were grow­ing up too, and so I get to be play­ful, I get to be a child.

“I get to try and think like them, and think what they would be en­ter­tained by. Plus also, I tried to think about the lessons they need to learn, the things they need to know and try to do it in a fun, teach­ing kind of way, but that’s fun to sing. “When I was writ­ing, I was try­ing to think of my­self as their teacher in school, you know, Miss Dolly. I was try­ing to think: ‘Now what would I teach if I was stand­ing up there in kin­der­garten class or in school teach­ing the chil­dren?’ So I had fun writ­ing th­ese songs.”

But the al­bum also has two very per­sonal tracks on it ti­tled Chemo Hero and Brave Lit­tle Sol­dier.

“I couldn’t write th­ese songs if they weren’t some­where deep in­side me from my own life and from my own child­hood,” she says.

“But I tried to ad­dress other things as well. Two songs I wrote about a lit­tle niece of mine, Han­nah Den­ni­son, she’s my sis­ter Rachel’s daugh­ter and she had leukaemia when she was four years old.

“We thought we were go­ing to lose her un­til she was like nine years old so she went through a hard time and so I wrote Chemo Hero and Brave Lit­tle Sol­dier for her. When she was re­coup­ing I would write all of th­ese songs and put them on a cas­sette for her to lis­ten to while she wasn’t feel­ing good.”

De­spite the al­bum’s ob­vi­ous per­sonal mean­ing, Par­ton says she hopes the songs will in­spire and help other chil­dren.

“I thought they would be im-

I have no plans to re­tire as I’ve still got plenty of work to do

por­tant to put in there be­cause there’s a lot of sick chil­dren out there.

“Brave Lit­tle Solider kind of cov­ers other sick chil­dren or chil­dren go­ing through a di­vorce, it’s just about be­ing brave, say­ing ‘we’re go­ing to make it through’.”

She says work­ing on the al­bum “re­ju­ve­nated” her and be­ing sur­rounded by chil­dren and get­ting to in­ter­act with them while pro­mot­ing it has “re­ally made me feel young again”.

An­other ‘young­ster’ not un­fa­mil­iar in her world is her god­daugh­ter, Amer­i­can pop star Mi­ley Cyrus (be­low). Par­ton has just col­lab­o­rated with Cyrus on her new al­bum on a song called Rain­bow­land.

And over the years Cyrus has belted out her god­mother’s fa­mous hits, no­tably cover­ing Par­ton’s 1973 hit Jo­lene, both solo and last year duet­ting with Par­ton dur­ing the Amer­i­can ver­sion of singing show The Voice.

Surely by now Par­ton must tire of per­form­ing it?

“No, I do not

(get tired of per­form­ing it),” she says em­phat­i­cally down the line.

“And a lot of peo­ple are amazed when I say this, that is the most recorded song that I’ve ever writ­ten world­wide since it came out in early Seven­ties, it’s just that lit­tle melody.”

She breaks into a gen­tle ver­sion of those fa­mous lyrics ‘Jo­lene, Jo­lene, Jo­lene, Joleen­nee...’ and you can al­most hear her smil­ing through the phone.

And what does she make of Cyrus’s ren­di­tions of it? “She does great on that, she’s al­ways loved that song,” she says proudly.

Par­ton will also soon fol­low in the foot­steps of per­son­al­i­ties like Tom Hardy, David Has­sel­hoff and Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme when she reads a CBee­bies Bed­time Story.

And that’s not all she’s got on the go: she reels off a list of things she’s got in the pipe­line. In the past, Dolly has ex­tended her tal­ents to the big screen, ap­pear­ing in hit films such as Steel Mag­no­lias and the Eight­ies com­edy 9 To 5.

“I have got sev­eral of my songs in pro­duc­tion,” she says, no­tably adding that she’s work­ing on de­vel­op­ing her song Jo­lene into a pos­si­ble se­ries, and “is try­ing to find a won­der­ful Jo­lene some­where out there in the world”.

“I’m tak­ing a lot of my songs and mak­ing them into movies for TV and I’m still work­ing on my life story as a mu­si­cal for stage,” she says.

And this chil­dren’s al­bum has sparked an­other dream she’d like to make a re­al­ity: a lul­laby al­bum called Dol­labyes for younger chil­dren.

Any plans to slow down then, Dolly? Not quite. “Well, I will slow down in some ways and speed up in oth­ers,” she adds.

“In fact, I’ve kind of pulled back a lit­tle now, I’m do­ing the pro­duc­tion things that’s a slower, eas­ier way of life. I’m not plan­ning to tour (any­time soon), but now that I’ve pulled back a bit, I’ve no­ticed I’m writ­ing more songs than I have in years, be­cause now there’s a de­mand for me to write songs for movies and sound­tracks, so I’ll slow down in some ways and work harder in an­other.

“I don’t have any plans to re­tire as I’ve still got plenty of work to do.”

That you do — and boy, are your fans glad for it.

Dolly Par­ton’s I Be­lieve In You is avail­able world­wide from to­day. See our re­view, right

Coun­try queen: Dolly has en­joyed a ca­reer span­ning 50years

Char­i­ta­ble work: Dolly meets chil­dren at the launch of Imag­i­na­tion Li­brary and (be­low) on the cover of her new al­bum, I Be­lieve In You

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