PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Singer. Songwriter. Record producer. Actress. Author. Businesswoman. Humanitarian. Over the course of the last 50 years no entertainer has had a more robust and diversified career than Dolly Parton. From her days as a young solo artist on The Porter Wagoner Show, to recording 25 number one hit songs, receiving nine Grammy Awards, and even two Academy Award nominations, there is virtually nothing in entertainment that Parton has not accomplished in six plus decades.
Such remarkable achievements for someone who was literally born in a one room cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The fourth of 12 children, Parton discovered she had a gift for music early in life and performed anywhere she could find a stage – from the rickety front porch of her parents’ ramshackle house to church suppers to local radio shows. Along the way, she developed the art of storytelling, a skill that allowed her to soak in the richness and diversity of the people and places of her youth.
It is these rural roots that has inspired Parton’s latest media endeavor, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, an eight-episode dramatic television series with each program based on one of her songs. It is set to debut on Netflix, Friday, November 22nd.
“All my life, I’ve been writing songs since I was tiny. I write stories because I grew up way back in the mountains,” Parton shared at a recent press event held in the shadows of where she grew up. “In my early days, we didn’t even have electricity so we would listen to the Grand Ole Opry on a battery radio or pour water on the ground wire so it would whistle in and out. But all through my teenage years, even after we had TV, all the kids always wanted to hear my songs. And so now it’s kind of led to this because I really write a lot of characters and I love to paint pictures in my songs.”
Specifically, the eight episodes featured are mostly lesser known album tracks with the exception of country hits “Jolene” and “Two Doors Down”. Each of the songs are brought to life through a variety of characters and critical points in history like the Vietnam War and the 1880s Wild West.
For the thousands of songs that she has written over the years, it must have been highly difficult to arrive at the final collection that ended up being produced for the Netflix series.
“We really mulled over a lot of things when we were putting this together,” Parton explains. “When we sold the idea to Netflix we all loved the thought, but we didn’t want to just take the hit songs. I thought it was more important to choose songs that had a completely different story. We wanted to pick songs that really did tug at your heart strings. These songs cover a whole array of feelings and emotions.”
Several actors including Julianne Hough (Safe Haven), Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone), and Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride) were quick to jump at the opportunity to work with Parton, who has had her own share of success working as an actress in Hollywood productions over the years, starring in movies such as Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
“I don’t think I realized how much she really is involved in,” offers Williams-Paisley, who shares the lead role with Hough in the “Jolene” episode. “Anytime I’ve told somebody that I’m working on this project with her, their eyes light up. She means so much to so many people. I think she’s inspired so many people, touched their hearts and lifted them up. So, it’s really special to be a part of this project.”
“I never really understood the depth of everything that she’s done,” adds Holly Taylor, who appears in “Down from Dover,” the seventh episode. “The charities she has started, the Dollywood theme park, it’s what she does for people, how she gives back, and how much meaning and beauty is behind all of her music. And I think that this show really helps to tell the story of all of that and showcase what an amazing individual she is.”
For all of her successes over the years including this latest project, Parton is quick to credit God for keeping and sustaining her through the good times and the bad. And her roots of faith run deep. Much of her formative years were spent attending and singing in her maternal grandfather’s church, where he served as pastor.
“We survived because of our faith in God to get us through,” Parton points out. “Every day, I pray for God to lead me and to take out all the wrong things, wrong people in my life. I ask Him to let me glorify Him and uplift mankind, to do something in this world to make it a little better than it was and that He would let me be a light and a vessel. If you write and if you can say something, you can be something, make a little change, even if it’s subtle, it’s better than doing nothing.”
While most people begin to slow down as they move into their later years, if anything, the 73-year-old Parton seems to be increasing her workload. In addition to executive producing Heartstrings, she also serves as the series narrator and even acts in a few episodes. This coupled with her various business ventures that include the Dollywood theme park, keep Parton moving aggressively forward as she closes in on her seventh decade in show business.
Says Parton, “I love my work. I really feel like I have a calling. I feel like God told me early on that I was supposed to go until He told me to stop. And He ain’t said nothing yet about quitting. I will go until I can’t go anymore.”
For right now, Parton is hopeful that Heartstrings will do well enough for she and her producing partner, Sam Haskell, to develop future episodes from her very deep songbook, one that has generated 50 studio albums to date.
“At my age and with everything going on, I just think this is a good time,” Parton explains. For somebody like me, if you write and if you can say something, you can be something. Make a little change, even if it’s subtle. It’s better than doing nothing.”
Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings debuts on Netflix, November 22nd.
Watch CBN.com’s sit-down interview with Dolly Parton on her new Netflix series Heartstrings: