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Donation to Tennessee institute comes as country star launches bedtime story initiative to offer a welcome distraction for children

Dolly Parton has donated $1m (800,000) to research into a coronavirus vaccine, as she begins a new storytelling series for children in lockdown.

The country music star wrote on Instagram:

My longtime friend Dr Naji Abumrad, whos been involved in research at Vanderbilt for many years, informed me that they were making some exciting advancements towards that research of the coronavirus for a cure. I am making a donation of $1 million to Vanderbilt towards that research and to encourage people that can afford it to make donations.

Abumrad works at the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation at Vanderbilt University hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. He and Parton became friends in 2014 after the singer was involved in a car accident and was treated at Vanderbilt. His son, Jad, subsequently interviewed Parton for the podcast Dolly Partons America.

Numerous teams are working on research into a coronavirus vaccine. US biotech firm Moderna began trials for a vaccine on 16 March, with Chinese firm CanSino Biologics launching its own trials the same day. The World Health Organization lists 52 other firms developing potential vaccines.

Parton is fighting another front of the coronavirus crisis: bored children. On Thursday she is launching Goodnight With Dolly, a bedtime story series on YouTube, beginning with a reading of The Little Engine That Could. She said she hoped the series would be a welcome distraction during a time of unrest, and inspire a love of reading and books.

Parton has long championed reading, with her charity, Imagination Library, having given more than 130m books to children.

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Annoyed Garth Brooks fans ripped the musician when they mistook his tribute for legendary NFL running back Barry Sanders as a presidential endorsement

Leave it to the internet to interpret Garth Brooks wearing a Barry Sanders jersey during a concert in Detroit as a political endorsement of a certain liberal presidential candidate.

The more than 70,000 fans who attended the country music stars 22 February show at Ford Field understood it for what it was: a tribute to one of greatest NFL running backs and Detroit Lions players ever.

Brooks told the audience that he donned Sanders No 20 jersey to pay homage to him since they both went to Oklahoma State University.

I was lucky to go to school with him, Brooks said. You guys got the greatest player in NFL history, in my opinion, in this jersey. I love this man.

After the show, Brooks posted a photo on social media of himself wearing the jersey, which has Sanders and 20 emblazoned on the back. Thats where the trouble started.

Annoyed fans ripped Brooks in the comment sections under the photo, believing he was endorsing Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and the self-proclaimed democratic socialists 2020 presidential campaign.

I had no idea you were a big freaking liberal socialist! Ive listened to your songs for the last time! one person wrote.

Another wrote, If this is for Bernie Sanders, Im done with you. I thought you were a true American that loves our country.

Others, though, pointed out the apparent confusion over Brooks post or made fun of those who read too much into it.

How much did KFC pay you to wear this? a commenter wrote, referring to another famous Sanders: Colonel.

Jason Vincent (@jasoncvincent)

Facebook forgot who Barry Sanders is and is freaking out at Garth Brooks for wearing a jersey and Im dying.

February 27, 2020

Theres no indication of who Brooks supports politically, though he performed at former Democratic president Barack Obamas 2009 inauguration.

The widely adored Brooks also has a track record of songs that were regarded as too progressive for country radio, most memorably 1992s We Shall Be Free, a call for racial and LGBT tolerance.

The music video for the song, written in response to the Rodney King verdict, included footage of riots, the Ku Klux Klan, flag burnings and dozens of celebrity cameos and was deemed too controversial for television after NBC promised to air it before Super Bowl XXVII which prompted Brooks to walk out of his scheduled pre-game performance of the national anthem unless the network agreed to air it. (NBC relented and Brooks performed.)

Bernie Sanders hadnt weighed in on the matter as of Friday afternoon, but the Hall of Fame running back took it in stride, tweeting his fellow OSU alum, Hey @garthbrooks, want to be my VP? #Number20For2020.

Brooks responded in jest, I would run any race with you! #Number20for2020 HA!!!

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Nashville folk singer died of an apparent heart attack aged 71 during a performance at a Florida music festival

Respected American singer-songwriter David Olney said sorry to fans before he died during a performance in Florida. The 71-year-old was mid-song when he stopped, apologised and shut his eyes, said musician Amy Rigby, who was performing alongside him at the 30A Songwriters festival in Santa Rosa Beach.

Rigby said: He was very still, sitting upright with his guitar on, wearing the coolest hat and a beautiful rust suede jacket I want the picture to be as graceful and dignified as it was, because it at first looked as if he was just taking a moment.

Olneys fellow musicians, doctors present in the audience, and paramedics unsuccessfully attempted to revive the singer. His publicist believes he died of an apparent heart attack.

NPR critic Ann Powers described Olneys death as a major loss to the Nashville songwriter community.

David Olney: You Never Know (Songwriter Series live performance) video

Olney was born in Rhode Island in 1948. He moved to Nashville in 1973 and formed a band called the X-Rays, who recorded two albums in the 1980s. As a solo artist, he released more than 20 albums. Artists including Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Earle and Steve Young have covered his music.

The late songwriter Townes Van Zandt wrote the liner notes for Olneys third album, Roses, released in 1991. Any time anyone asks me who my favourite music writers are, I say Mozart, Lightnin Hopkins, Bob Dylan and Dave Olney, he wrote. Dave Olney is one of the best songwriters Ive ever heard and thats true. I mean that from my heart.

Olney is survived by his wife Regine, son Redding and daughter Lillian.

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Lizzo scores eight nominations with Eilish and Lil Nas X on seven, but British artists largely snubbed in major categories

The 17-year-old pop sensation Billie Eilish has become the youngest artist to be nominated in all four of the most prestigious Grammy award categories: record, album and song of the year, and best new artist.

Her gothic, innovative single Bad Guy, which topped the US charts, is nominated in the song and record categories, while her similarly chart-topping album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is nominated for the album prize. She completed a sweep of the top categories with a best new artist nomination, and has six nominations in all. Her album engineers got a nod in the best engineered album category, including her brother and collaborator Finneas, who received three nominations.

The most nominations were for Lizzo, who received eight, including in the top four categories. The powerhouse Minneapolis singer, known for her vociferous support of body positivity as well as her showboating flute solos, has been a slow-burn success, first releasing music in 2013 but scoring breakthrough hits this year with Juice, Tempo and US No 1 hit Truth Hurts.

Lil Nas X received six nominations, including three in the top categories, predominantly for his song Old Town Road. It is indisputably one of the most successful songs of the year, breaking a US chart record with its 19 consecutive weeks at No 1 Mariah Carey and Boyz II Mens duet One Sweet Day had held the honour since 1996. All three of Eilish, Lizzo and Lil Nas X have never received a Grammy nomination before.

Ariana Grande, who receives five nominations. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

R&B singer HER scored five nominations, including record, album and song of the year, with Ariana Grande also earning five, including record and album of the year her first appearances in the major categories. Wisconsin singer-songwriter Bon Iver was nominated four times, including record and album of the year, while Beyonc in a relatively minor year with no solo album release still managed to secure four nominations, for her Lion King soundtrack work as well as her Coachella concert film, Homecoming.

While recent years have seen Grammy success for the likes of Ed Sheeran and Adele, British artists were mostly shut out of the top four categories. Lewis Capaldi received a nomination for song of the year for his ballad Someone Like You, which has topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Bristol country-soul singer Yola was nominated for best new artist, and received three further nominations in American roots categories.

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke earned three nominations in specialist categories, with Chemical Brothers scoring three, and two for R&B singer Ella Mai. Other nominated Brits include the 1975, Bring Me the Horizon, James Blake and Elvis Costello. A surprise inclusion was Bones UK, a Camden rock band who, despite their low profile, secured a nomination for best rock performance with their song Pretty Waste.

Lil Nas X also crops up in the rap categories, this time with his single Panini in the running for rap/sung performance. The genres biggest prize, best rap performance, features a posthumous nomination for Nipsey Hussle, the LA star who was shot dead in April.

Snubs include to Taylor Swift, who might have expected more than just one nomination in major categories song of the year for Lover, the only song in the category to feature a single songwriter and Ed Sheeran, whose collaborative album No 6 Collaborations Project only generated one nomination, for pop vocal album. Sam Smith received no nominations for their major US hit Dancing With a Stranger, nor did Halsey, whose single Without Me spent 29 weeks in the US Top 10 and went five times platinum.

The total lack of nominations for Solanges acclaimed album When I Get Home, or Bruce Springsteens Western Stars, is also surprising the Guardian has asked their record labels if their albums were put forward for nomination.

A British success story … Yola. Photograph: Alysse Gafkjen

Grammy nominations 2020: the major categories

Album of the year
Bon Iver
i, i
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Ariana Grande Thank U, Next
HER I Used to Know Her
Lil Nas X 7
Lizzo Cuz I Love You (Deluxe)
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride

Record of the year
Bon Iver Hey, Ma
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
HER Hard Place
Khalid Talk
Lil Nas X ft Billy Ray Cyrus Old Town Road
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Post Malone & Swae Lee Sunflower

Song of the year
Natalie Hemby, Lady Gaga, Hillary Lindsey & Lori McKenna, songwriters (Lady Gaga) Always Remember Us This Way
Billie Eilish OConnell & Finneas OConnell, songwriters (Billie Eilish) Bad Guy
Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth & Tanya Tucker, songwriters (Tanya Tucker) Bring My Flowers Now
Ruby Amanfu, Sam Ashworth, D. Arcelious Harris. H.E.R. & Rodney Jerkins, songwriters (HER) Hard Place
Taylor Swift, songwriter (Taylor Swift) Lover
Jack Antonoff & Lana Del Rey, songwriters (Lana Del Rey) Norman Fucking Rockwell
Tom Barnes, Lewis Capaldi, Pere Kelleher, Benjamin Kohn & Sam Roman, songwriters (Lewis Capaldi) Someone You Loved
Steven Cheung, Eric Frederic, Melissa Jefferson & Jesse Saint John, songwriters (Lizzo) Truth Hurts

Best new artist
Black Pumas
Billie Eilish
Lil Nas X
Maggie Rogers
Tank and the Bangas

Best pop album
Beyonc The Lion King: The Gift
Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Ariana Grande Thank U, Next
Ed Sheeran No 6 Collaborations Project
Taylor Swift Lover

Best rock album
Bring Me the Horizon Amo
Cage the Elephant Social Cues
The Cranberries In the End
I Prevail Trauma
Rival Sons Feral Roots

Bon Iver. Photograph: Publicity Image

Best alternative music album
Big Thief
James Blake Assume Form
Bon Iver i, i
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
Thom Yorke Anima

Best urban contemporary album
Steve Lacy Apollo XXI
Lizzo Cuz I Love You (Deluxe)
Georgia Anne Muldrow Overload
Nao Saturn
Jessie Reyez Being Human In Public

Best rap album
Dreamville Revenge of the Dreamers III
Meek Mill Championships
21 Savage I Am > I Was
Tyler, the Creator Igor
YBN Cordae The Lost Boy

Best R&B album
BJ the Chicago Kid 1123
Lucky Daye Painted
Ella Mai Ella Mai
PJ Morton Paul
Anderson .Paak Ventura

Best dance/electronic album
Apparat LP5
Chemical Brothers No Geography
Flume Hi This Is Flume (Mixtape)
Rfs Du Sol Solace
Tycho Weather

Best country album
Eric Church Desperate Man
Reba McEntire Stronger Than the Truth
Pistol Annies Interstate Gospel
Thomas Rhett Center Point Road
Tanya Tucker While Im Livin

Best Americana album
Calexico and Iron & Wine Years to Burn
Madison Cunningham Who Are You Now
Keb Mo Oklahoma
JS Ondara Tales of America
Yola Walk Through Fire

Best Latin pop album
Luis Fonsi Vida
Maluma 11:11
Ricardo Montaner Montaner
Alejandro Sanz #ELDISCO
Sebastian Yatra Fantasa

Best gospel album
Kirk Franklin Long Live Love
Donald Lawrence Presents the Tri-City Singers Goshen
Gene Moore Tunnel Vision
William Murphy Settle Here
CeCe Winans Somethings Happening! A Christmas Album

Best pop solo performance
Beyonc Spirit
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Taylor Swift You Need to Calm Down

Best pop duo/group performance
Ariana Grande and Social House Boyfriend
Jonas Brothers Sucker
Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus Old Town Road
Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello Seorita

Best traditional pop vocal album
Andrea Bocelli S
Michael Bubl Love (Deluxe Edition)
Elvis Costello and the Imposters Look Now
John Legend A Legendary Christmas
Barbra Streisand Walls

DaBaby. Photograph: Earl Gibson III/REX/Shutterstock

Best rap performance
J Cole Middle Child
DaBaby Suge
Dreamville ft JID, Bas, J.Cole, Earthgang and& Young Nudy Down Bad
Nipsey Hussle ft Roddy Ricch and Hit-boy Racks in the Middle
Offset ft Cardi B Clout

Best traditional R&B performance
BJ the Chicago Kid Time Today
India.Arie Steady Love
Jerome Lizzo
Real Games Lucky Daye
Built For Love PJ Morton & Jazmine Sullivan

Best rap/sung performance
DJ Khaled ft Nipsey Hussle & John Legend Higher
Lil Baby and Funna Drip Too Hard
Lil Nas X Panini
Mustard ft Roddy Ricch Ballin
Young Thug ft J Cole & Travis Scott The London

Best rap song
Chancelor Bennett, Cordae Dunston, Uforo Ebong and Daniel Hackett, songwriters (Ybn Cordae ft Chance the Rapper) Bad Idea
Noel Cadastre, Aubrey Graham, Anderson Hernandez, Khristopher Riddick-tynes, William Leonard Roberts Ii, Joshua Quinton Scruggs, Leon Thomas Iii and Ozan Yildirim, songwriters (Rick Ross ft Drake) Gold Roses
Jermaine Cole, Dacoury Natche, 21 Savage & Anthony White, songwriters (21 Savage ft J Cole) A Lot
Ermias Asghedom, Dustin James Corbett, Greg Allen Davis, Chauncey Hollis Jr and Rodrick Moore, songwriters (Nipsey Hussle ft. Roddy Ricch and Hit-boy) Racks in the Middle
DaBaby, Jetsonmade and Pooh Beatz, songwriters (DaBaby) Suge

Best R&B song
Dernst Emile Ii, David Swagg Rcelious Harris, HER and Hue Soundzfire Strother, Songwriters (H.E.R. Ft. Bryson Tiller) Couldve Been
Emily King and Jeremy Most, Songwriters (Emily King) Look at Me Now
Chris Brown, Tyler James Bryant, Nija Charles, Aubrey Graham, Anderson Hernandez, Michee Patrick Lebrun, Joshua Lewis, Noah Shebib and Teddy Walton, songwriters (Chris Brown ft Drake) No Guidance
David Brown, Dernst Emile Ii & Peter Lee Johnson, Songwriters (Lucky Daye) Roll Some Mo
PJ Morton, Songwriter (PJ Morton ft Jojo) Say So

Best rock performance
Bones UK Pretty Waste
Gary Clark Jr This Land
Brittany Howard History Repeats
Karen O and Danger Mouse Woman
Rival Sons Too Bad

Best metal performance
Candlemass ft. Tony Iommi Astorolus: The Great Octopus
Death Angel Humanicide
I Prevail Bow Down
Killswitch Engage Unleashed
Tool 7empest

Best country solo performance
Tyler Childers All Yourn
Ashley McBryde Girl Goin Nowhere
Willie Nelson Ride Me Back Home
Blake Shelton Gods Country
Tanya Tucker Bring My Flowers Now

Best country duo/group performance
Brooks and Dunn with Luke Combs Brand New Man
Brothers Osborne I Dont Remember Me (Before You)
Dan and Shay Speechless
Little Big Town The Daughters
Maren Morris ft Brandi Carlile Common

Brandi Carlile. Photograph: Brandi Carlile/Alysse Gafkjen

Best country song
Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth and Tanya Tucker, songwriters (Tanya Tucker) Bring My Flowers Now
Jeremy Bussey & Ashley Mcbryde, songwriters (Ashley McBryde) Girl Goin Nowhere
Miranda Lambert, Hillary Lindsey, Lori Mckenna and Liz Rose, Songwriters (Miranda Lambert) It All Comes Out in the Wash
Eric Church, Clint Daniels, Jeff Hyde & Bobby Pinson, Songwriters (Eric Church) Some of It
Shay Mooney, Jordan Reynolds, Dan Smyers and Laura Veltz, songwriters (Dan and Shay) Speechless

Best rock song
Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, Adam Jones and Maynard James Keenan, songwriters (Tool) Fear Inoculum
George Daniel, Adam Hann, Matthew Healy & Ross MacDonald, songwriters (The 1975) Give Yourself a Try
Ezra Koenig, songwriter (Vampire Weekend) Harmony Hall
Brittany Howard, Songwriter (Brittany Howard) History Repeats
Gary Clark Jr., Songwriter (Gary Clark Jr) This Land

Producer of the year, non-classical
Jack Antonoff
Dan Auerbach
John Hill
Ricky Reed

Best compilation soundtrack for visual media
Various artists The Lion King: The Songs
Various artists Quentin Tarantinos Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Taron Egerton Rocketman
Various artists Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born

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Overturning customary ideas about older artists slowing down, Nelson now 86 has been in prodigious form over the past decade, pumping out a dozen albums of assorted duets, originals, covers and tributes. Nine months after My Way, his homage to Sinatra, comes this final instalment in a trilogy (with 2017s Gods Problem Child and 2018s Last Man Standing) in which mortality looms large.

In contrast to the sombre hues of late era Johnny Cash, Nelson has kept his tone buoyant defiant and droll as often as reflective, moods maintained here on three numbers penned with producer Buddy Cannon. Seven Year Itch has Willie riding my mind round my neighbourhood, while Come On Time battles ageing. Two songs from the late Guy Clark, Immigrant Eyes and My Favorite Picture of You, supply rueful gravitas, while Stay Away From Lonely Places brilliantly resurrects a 1972 Nelson obscurity. Only the title track, written by Sonny Throckmorton, gets sloppy, a mawkish tribute to the stable of 70 retired horses Nelson has saved from the knackers yard. The voice has weathered like timber, but his timing is impeccable, his Tex-Mex guitar flurries thrilling. The cowboy sage (and Beto Democrat) remains unique.

Watch the video for Seven Year Itch by Willie Nelson.

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As she prepares to take Glastonbury by storm, the country star opens a bottle of red wine and talks about the personal tragedy that coloured her new songs

Saturday night on the banks of the Ohio River, and the most American of scenes is unfolding. At the Ball Park, the Cincinnati Reds are playing the Texas Rangers, while at the US Bank Arena next door Carrie Underwood is making the latest stop on her global tour. Fans spill together through the muggy streets, a mingling of scarlet baseball jerseys and tan cowboy boots.

This is Underwoods first tour since 2016, a huge two-hour, 60-date monolith of a show in support of last years album Cry Pretty. Reaching UK arenas on Friday, it features a hydraulic stage, multiple costume changes and fearsome pyrotechnics, and it will carry her from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Detroit, Michigan, via the Glastonbury festival this weekend.

The most successful winner of American Idol, triumphing in the TV talent shows fourth season in 2005, Underwood has since recorded six albums, sold over 65m records, won seven Grammys, and earned more than $83m (65m). She is beautiful and blonde, and married to a retired ice hockey player: at first glance an unlikely addition to the Worthy Farm lineup.

Underwood and husband Mike Fisher at the CMT music awards in Nashville this month. Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

When we meet backstage after the show she is out of her costume but still in her stage makeup teary glitter circles smudged beneath her eyes. I got us wine! she announces from the sofa, pouring a large glass of cabernet sauvignon. This is actually a treat for me because normally I go straight to my bus, and I have a crying baby. Underwoods second son, Jacob, was born in January, and now he, her four-year-old, Isaiah, and her husband, Mike Fisher, have joined her on tour. I actually kicked my husband out of the bed and he sleeps on the couch up front, she says of their onboard sleeping arrangements. Its just a lot easier to wake up in a moving bus and grab the baby and feed him. She says she has puzzled over how to adapt her set for Glastonbury, deciding to largely play the hits, try to keep it eclectic and perhaps bust out an Aerosmith cover.

It must be a strange time for such a quintessentially American artist to be visiting the wider world, especially one who is white, southern and religious. I feel like more people try to pin me places politically, she says carefully. I try to stay far out of politics if possible, at least in public, because nobody wins. Its crazy. Everybody tries to sum everything up and put a bow on it, like its black and white. And its not like that.

She cites as an example the reaction to her recent single The Bullet, which looked at the long-running emotional impact of a shooting death. Immediately people said Oh you have a song about gun control! she sighs. It was more about the lives that were changed by something terrible happening. And it does kind of bug me when people take a song, or take something I said and try to pigeonhole or force me to pick a side or something. Its a discussion a long discussion.

She grew up in small-town Oklahoma, where like most families they kept guns under the bed. We had one stop light, one school, she recalls. Choir, band, football, basketball and baseball. Her parents, a teacher and paper-mill worker, drove her to other small towns in a homemade costume to compete in talent shows. The savings bond I would win wouldnt cover whatever we spent on gas to get there, she remembers.

Carrie Underwood wins American Idol in 2005. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When she was 15, she landed a development deal with a record company and got to record in Nashville, though it came to nothing. I just got my braces off, my acne had cleared up decently but we had no idea what we were doing, she says of herself and her band. She went to college to study communications, joined a theatre group and found for the first time in her life a feeling that this is a safe place, we can sing and its OK here. Apart from the out-of-town talent shows, she had largely kept her voice to herself. I was more guarded with singing anywhere near where I grew up, she explains. Its that fear thing: what will they say? What if they laugh at me?

In 2005 she used her parents dial-up internet to register for American Idol. I thought: why not? she explains. Because then I figured at least the door will be shut and I could stop wondering. I could stop thinking what if? And then I could just come home, and graduate and get a job.

Carrie Underwood in glittery stage makeup. Photograph: Randee St Nicholas

I wonder whether, performing before thousands of people in vast arenas, she still worries about what they might think when shes singing. A lot of times I feel like Im alone, she says. Im obviously aware of people being around me. But its like Im in the song alone on stage. It is a good place. I like to be alone. My husband is probably the only person this planet I couldve married my mom, when I told her I was engaged, was even like I just never really thought youd get married. And so I feel like when Im alone and singing and I hear nothing but music, its a nice place to be.

A recent study found that lately country music has moved away from its familiar subjects of hardship and heartbreak towards party songs. Theres a lot of songs that arent actually saying too much, she says. Fun songs to listen along to; party vibe. She pauses. It makes my skin crawl when I hear somebody say Gurrrl in a song, you know?

Underwood prefers the traditional themes:the woman wronged, the sorrow worn. She will stand looking immaculate in a pretty frock, singing about hard times, being cheated on, drinking, messing up her unfaithfuls car. I hope people know you gotta have a little crazy in ya! she laughs. Ive got long blond hair and I like glitter But theres a little crazy in there, and I like that to come out every once in a while. I went through a phase where I killed a lot of people she mentionsthe Blown Away album in which the body count included Cupid hunted down with a shotgun and an alcoholic father taken out by a tornado. I have no idea why, but I wanted everything to be cinematic and dramatic. This album, things were a little more on the emotional side.

Last autumn, as she launched Cry Pretty, she spoke openly of the experience of suffering three miscarriages in the course of two years, and how that loss coloured many of the new songs, capturing the time when I was still trying to do my job and put on a smiley happy face and be Carrie Underwood. And then Id go home and fall apart.

Watch the video for Cry Pretty

The response to her speaking openly about miscarriage has been deeply moving. Its something that people dont really talk about, she says. Even people who are my friends and I know well, after I talked about it were like, My gosh, me too! And I feel like its something I shouldve known about them.

She takes a moment. I think you feel silly being so attached to something that you knew about for this long, she says, and holds up her fingers a short distance apart. But I still feel it, you know. I mean it took me a while to be able to sing certain songs and be able to get through them without really going there. It doesnt go away. Ever.

Today she finds singing songs such as Cry Pretty and Low difficult but therapeutic. I guess you wait for things to stop hurting at some point, she says gently. But letting yourself go there … other people that are going through the same thing, it kind of connects you to them. I will always mourn those children, those lives that were a shooting star, a breath of smoke, but I have Jacob, and he is incredible, he is the sweetest little baby. At the time it was awful, and it still hurts, but its kind of like OK, I have this.

Big stage she wrote and co-produced her album. Photograph: Ralph Larmann

Underwoods producer, David Garcia, says the number one question she gets asked is whether or not she genuinely writes songs, or does she just show up and Instagram the whole time? Underwood not only writes, she also co-produced this record an anomaly in the male-dominated world of country music. I mean, I get it: if you were a songwriter in Nashville, and 90-plus per cent of artists are male, are you going to go into your writing session and write a song for a woman?

She looks resolute. It doesnt bother me, she says. Ill do it myself. She pours one last glass before she heads to the bus and the crying baby. But we do it all. In high heels. Ill be waking up at God knows what time in the morning feeding my baby no one else can do that, and Im proud of that.

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The Grammy-winning country star talks about Nashville, being inspired by her horse and microdosing with LSD

Earlier this month at the Academy of Country Music awards, there was minor controversy when the host, Nashville grande dame Reba McEntire, performed a new song and everyone got to their feet apart from Kacey Musgraves. Someone tweeted: Have a little respect at least for someone who paved the way for you. It wasnt the first time Musgraves had made headlines by failing to show rapture at an awards do. Country is worse than rap and pop for pitching its women against each other in imaginary battles. At this point in my career, 30-year-old Musgraves says down the line from Nashville, if you see me at some kind of show, you should enjoy the fact that Im not a robot. Do you ever see someone analysing Chris Stapletons face? Men dont get that. Everyone needs to drop it.

In February, Musgravess fourth album, Golden Hour, received the Grammy for best album not just best country album, but best album period. The genre is transforming, the think-pieces said: there are liberal, outspoken young females in Nashville for the first time (as though the Dixie Chicks never happened). There are, of course, the Opry traditionalists. But there are pop artists, too, who like Taylor Swift happened to cut their teeth on Nashville publishing deals and used the occasional banjo in songs. Musgraves, who competed on the TV talent show Nashville Star in 2007, exploited the tension between the old and new worlds with her 2015 song Good Ol Boys Club. She exploited it with the title of her debut album, Same Trailer Different Park, which pointed to dirt-poor beginnings this daughter of an artist and a print-maker didnt really have.

She set out her stall as a liberal at the start with Follow Your Arrow: roll up a joint, or dont kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if thats what youre into (the lyrics were censored at the Country Music Association awards). You wonder what the Grand Ole Opry would think when she tells me: Ive never considered myself a country artist. Im not focused on what is or isnt country music. I couldnt care less. Does it feel like me? Then Im fucking game.

Musgraves was born in Golden, Texas, a town that grew out of a sawmill. Her parents run a graphic design shop in nearby Mineola. As a child, she sang western swing on Saturday nights in concert halls around Texas, dressed in boots and rhinestone. She was a normal 90s kid listening to Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys but with Shania Twain and Sheryl Crow on her Walkman too, there was, she thinks, a plethora of female perspective in country music at the time.

The Musgraves fuelled her ambitions: her sister still takes her photographs. Her parents printed her flyers in their shop and her gigs were booked by her grandmother, who financed a self-titled album after high school. I didnt have a unique perspective, she says of her teenage efforts. I felt like the biggest nerd in many ways. None of my friends were dressing up in western wear and singing for people twice their age. I knew it was something I enjoyed, but I felt like a loner.

It was a local musician, John DeFoore, now in his 70s, who turned Musgraves from karaoke kid to songwriter. She took guitar lessons with him from the age of 12 to 16, walking to his studios in Mineolas abandoned Beckham railway hotel. John dreamed of restoring it, she says. It had a ballroom, and in his words it was full of spirits. DeFoores roster also includes Miranda Lambert and Michelle Shocked. His website says: just tell me what you want to learn.

Right away he knew I wasnt a kid who was going to learn by repetition and scales, Musgraves says. He said: Next week when you come back, I want you to have written a song, and I dont care how bad you think it is. By questioning her chord choices, and making her tapes of her creations, DeFoore weirdly gave me exactly the tools I needed to move to Nashville and pursue an actual career as a staff songwriter, she says. She got a writing deal at 20, just a year after coming to town.

Watch the video for Rainbow from Kacey Musgravess album Golden Hour.

Musgravess song Undermine featured in Music Citys global TV export, Nashville. She met also her husband, the country singer Ruston Kelly, when they were paired up to write for the show. Nashville is equal parts completely contrived and very real, she says. As someone in the industry, seeing people singing songs written by my friends and me, it was really fucking weird. We had a drinking game: do a shot when you see someone you know in the background. By the end youd be completely obliterated.

The show did much to explain the industry to the world, but also its prejudices: not least against gay artists, forced to choose between coming out and keeping their contracts. Does Musgraves, who has a big gay following, think anything is changing? I dont know, she says, sounding glum. There are unfortunately a lot of people in Nashville that feel they cant disclose who they really are.

A recent study of 500 top country songs from 2014-2018 showed that only 16% were performed by women. Musgraves says: I am tired of the gender conversation. Im more interested in good songs rather than what is between somebodys legs. It could be a llama singing for all I care.

She recently said there were more important issues in the industry why arent there more artists of colour? We speak a month after Lil Nas Xs country-rap hybrid single Old Town Road charted in Billboards Hot 100, R&B and country charts at the same time before being quietly removed from the last. Tradition and lack of equal opportunities explains the dearth of black country musicians, Musgraves says, but there are so many outlets for people to make music, so many more chances for people to be artists if they are inclined to be. It takes years for main format to evolve.

Since Trump got in, its a line you hear more and more from American musicians: the countrys downhearted enough without political songs; music should be an escape. Anyone could look at my older albums and decipher where I stand in my views, says Musgraves, but she wont be drawn. I dont want to ruminate on the things that are wrong with the country right now. Is she under pressure from management to keep her opinions in check? She laughs. I might be warned, but that doesnt mean Im going to listen.

Kacey Musgraves performing at Coachella in California earlier this month. Photograph: Christopher Polk/REX/Shutterstock

Golden Hour represents a change in her writing towards greater space and tenderness. Instead of focusing on turning a phrase, or trying to out-clever myself, this album was more about feeling my way through than thinking my way through.

Theres a subtle movement in songwriting now, expressed by Musgraves and Sharon Van Etten, and even Taylor Swift: writing from a place of happiness is more creative than mining the classic bad guy motif.

Creative people commonly have the misconception that they need to be in some kind of a suffering state to create, Musgraves says. And that can be dangerous. Ive definitely found myself staying in unhealthy situations longer than I should have because I was getting something out of it. I was not aware I could find the same level of inspiration when Im happy. But inspiration is always floating around, accessible to everyone.

Beneath her anxious moments a result, perhaps, of being cast as countrys newest outlaw you get the sense that Musgraves is a hippy at heart. Im not doing anything that groundbreaking, she says. Im just filtering the sediment out of life and making it into my songs. She advocates microdosing for writing music. While falling in love made her feel a growth spurt, more connected to the human experience, so does a tiny amount of LSD.

Any chance you have to be taken outside the human ego is pretty invaluable, however you can get there, she says. We are everything, but we are nothing at all. Im inspired by anything that gives you more appreciation for this living rock we are on, floating in space. A change in perspective is a beautiful thing. You can use it as a tool if you pay attention, and youre not reckless.

Her horse, which is kept on a farm 40 minutes from her Nashville home, is also a major source of inspiration. Hes black, and really pretty, and a little overweight, and he acts like a sweet little boy, she says. I would put him in my bathtub if I could. Its soul food when I go out there and smell the dirt, and work up a sweat, spend time taking care of something that is not me.

Musgraves does not quite feel media-trained in that smiling, impenetrable, Nashville way. She says putting on an act is not an option, which explains why, at awards ceremonies, if she feels like staying in her seat she will.

This career is full of certain sacrifices, not seeing your family, your privacy being put on the line so theres nothing that would make not being myself worth it anyway, she says. It would be terribly empty if I didnt have honesty but I had the fucking crazy lifestyle on top of it. I would literally go and shovel shit in a horse barn before that happens. Which, as we know, isnt a bad option at all.

Kate Mossman is features editor of the New Statesman. Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves (MCA Nashville/Decca) is out now

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Younger sibling says singer should use her position to speak out about abuse in the country and western music industry

Dolly Parton has been criticised by her younger sister for not speaking out more about sexual predators in the country and western music scene, after the star of 9 to 5 said she didnt identify as a feminist and indicated she had no interest in becoming a cheerleader for the #MeToo movement.

In a scathing attack on the Nashville singers approach to sexual harassment, Stella Parton urged her sister to use her position as a pop culture icon to advocate more for womens rights.

Im ashamed of my sister for keeping her mouth shut, said Parton, 69, who grew up with Dolly as one of 12 siblings to illiterate parents in Sevier County, Tennessee. She can run it when it is about something else, but speak up about injustice, Dolly Parton. Speak up. And speak out. Defend women, and dont just do it in a little song. Speak up.

Speaking on the Our Stories podcast for CountryLine, a fan app for country music, she added: This is the first time Ive really publicly called my sister out. But its high time that some of these older women speak up and speak out. Theyve all gone through all kinds of abuse in this industry so: speak up!

In an interview with the Guardian last weekend, Dolly Parton, a nine-time Grammy winner and star of the 1980 feminist classic 9 to 5, dismissed her co-star Jane Fondas assertion that workplace harassment was worse today than it was in 1980.

Im pretty sure its always been bad. Its just that with the #MeToo movement women are bolder to speak out against it, she said.

But Parton, 73, also indicated she had no interest in becoming an outspoken advocate for #MeToo or even identifying as particularly feminist. I dont think I mean, I must be if being a feminist means Im all for women, yes. But I dont feel I have to march, hold up a sign or label myself. I think the way I have conducted my life and my business and myself speaks for itself. I dont think of it as being feminist. Its not a label I have to put on myself. Im just all for gals, she said.

Dolly Parton, left, with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Rex Features

Stella Parton, whose biggest hit was the 1975 anthem I Want To Hold You In My Dreams Tonight, now teaches domestic violence awareness courses to young women in Kentucky and in 2014 organised a womens conference in Nashville called the Red Tent at which her sister Dolly was the headline speaker.

But she believes her sister is betraying her celebrity status by not making a stronger stand against sexual harassment and misogyny in the industry. Last year publicist Kirt Webster who used to represent Dolly Parton and many others was accused of multiple sexual assaults. He denied all accusations at the time and has not been charged with any crimes.

Stella Parton said: In the same way that Jane Fonda and people who have been in Hollywood all these years and never said a word, like Meryl Streep was all big buddies with Harvey Weinstein until he got busted.

And then she kinda came around to say, well, you know, thats terrible well, why didnt you speak up when it came down? You knew it? All these women just didnt speak up because theyre afraid theyre gonna mess with their fanbase. I think women would be more apt to respect you if you would speak up.

Thats why I was so happy to have people in our government like Michelle Obama, who has always been such an inspiration to the younger generation of women.

I believe we finally have a chance here. We have an open window. Dont let it be closed by keeping your mouth shut.

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At 85, Willie Nelson still spends half the year on the road and is busy supporting Texan Democrat nominee Beto ORourke. And the giant of country musics 2,500 song catalogue just keeps growing

In the Boston suburb of Mansfield, Massachusetts, I am summoned to Willie Nelsons tour bus a couple of hours before he takes to the stage at the Outlaw music festival. Meanwhile, in Dallas, the progressive Democrat Beto ORourke is wrapping up his first debate with Ted Cruz, his Republican opponent in Texass too-close-to-call US Senate race. ORourke will later be seen celebrating his strong performance by air-drumming to the Who in a Whataburger drive-thru.

Soon after Nelson signed on to headline a major ORourke rally on 29 September, some conservative fans reportedly planned to boycott his music in protest. A doctored photograph went viral of Nelson in a Beto for Texas shirt, flipping off at the camera like his friend Johnny Cash. But an actual boycott appeared to be bogus, or at least overblown; and anyway, as singer Wheeler Walker Jr tweeted: You can argue politics all you want, but you cannot argue Willie.

As I make my way backstage, a fan hollers while cheerfully stirring the coals of a barbecue: Tell Willie hello from the guy in the parking lot! Nelson is always saying hello back. He resolves to play what audiences have come to hear, whether its Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain or Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, or On the Road Again, or Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings and Django Reinhardt covers. Renowned producer Jerry Wexler once said Nelson was the incarnation of humanity; its perplexing that anyone would be surprised by his sticking up for ORourke, whose campaign website defines success thus: It means that we are all treated with dignity and respect.

A waxing harvest moon hovers over the latest incarnation of the Honeysuckle Rose, Nelsons bus and home on the road. Annie DAngelo Nelson, his fourth wife since 1991, greets me warmly. Were you watching? she asks, meaning the debate. I thought Beto blew him away. She is the dynamite to Willies calm when he ambles into the kitchen, his grey hair in two long braids. At 85, Nelson is still vigorously hale, as handsomely and admirably weathered as his battered guitar, Trigger. Willie, you gotta look at her butt! Annie says my jeans are embroidered with a map of Texas. From the pocket I pull a You Beto Vote For Beto! sticker I picked up in Austin.

Settling into the dinette where he regularly hosts guests, Nelson is an intensely receptive listener, eyes twinkling when he lets out full-lung laughter, but never straying. You can see why he tends to win his legendary dominoes and poker games.

At Nelsons annual Fourth of July picnic, ORourke, who played in punk bands growing up in El Paso, and who referenced the Clash in his Cruz debate, joined Willie onstage for Its All Going to Pot and Will the Circle Be Unbroken. We hit it off immediately cause hes a musician too. Hes for the same things Im for in Texas, which is letting everybody do what they want to, Nelson says. He levels his steady gaze. Ev-er-y-body.

With President Jimmy Carter, 1979. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Texas looms large in all his music; in concert, his songs sound as if they were scripted to fill its enormous skies. I miss it all the time, Nelson says. I miss the hot weather, I miss the cold weather, I have some ponies down there I like to see. Nelson used to average 200 days a year on the road, now around 150; its his preferred way of being. His sister, Bobbie, the longtime pianist in Nelsons Family band, says Nelson takes after their mother, a wanderer who left her and Willie with their grandparents when they were very young. The road gives him a rare vantage point; he has seen more of the US, and more of its changes, than most. He takes this in his stride. Ive moved around a lot in 85 years, he says. And I went through a lot of political spaces in our country four years of this, eight years of that.

Collective memory recalls Nelson allegedly getting high on the White House roof during his friend Jimmy Carters administration, but tends to forget Nelsons long history of political involvement. Over the years he has lent his support to friends such as the irrepressible Texas governor Ann Richards, the satirist Kinky Friedman, even the independent presidential candidate Ross Perot. He supported Barack Obama and both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. He has spoken out against LGBTQ discrimination and covered the Ned Sublette song Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other. I call myself a VI, Nelson says. Very independent.

Without deigning to mention Trump by name, Nelson included the protest song Delete and Fast Forward, on Gods Problem Child in 2017, in apparent opposition to the presidents agenda of hate and divisiveness. Nelson was outraged by the detention centres and the forced separation of families: I thought everything that happened there was unforgivable. He opposes the proposed wall, too. We have a statue that says: Yall come in, he says. I dont believe in closing the border. Open them suckers up! When I ask how his 33-year-old charity Farm Aid supports immigrant farmworkers in the US, he is reflective. We need those folks, Nelson says. I used to pick cotton and pull corn and bale hay and Im lucky to play guitar now, but we have to have the people who want to work, and take care of them.

He has written a new song that he will sing onstage at the rally, set to a hymn-like tune. The biggest gun weve got is called the ballot box, he sings to me across the table in a strong, clear voice. If you dont like whos in there, vote em out.

Nelson has always been a VI artist, too. In 1978, on the heels of the masterful narrative Red-Headed Stranger, the gospel album The Troublemaker, and the conceptual Phases and Stages, the studio worried it had been a while since his outlaw hit Shotgun Willie and insisted audiences wanted more edgy cowboy songs. But Nelson ignored them I listened to my heart, he wrote and recorded an album of forgotten standards, the Kurt Weill and George Gershwin numbers he and his sister Bobbie learned as kids in Abbott, Texas, songs that helped form their musical telepathy.

Stardust, with Nelsons searing covers of All of Me and Blue Skies, went platinum and earned a Grammy for Georgia On My Mind. My Way, Nelsons 68th studio album and his second this year, with covers of Sinatra standards, is the latest chapter in Nelsons singular interpretation of the Great American Songbook and a tribute to his longtime favourite singer. Sinatrall lay down behind the beat and hell speed up and get in front of the beat, Nelson says, and I thought that was cool. I tried mimicking it a little and I wound up doing that a lot in my songs.

He and Sinatra cemented their mutual admiration with a duet of My Way in 1993. We used to play shows together in Vegas and Palm Springs, Nelson remembers. After one gig, Sinatra invited Nelson to his place in Palm Springs. I was in a big hurry to go somewhere, so I said, Ill catch you next time, and I never did see him again, Nelson says. Sinatra died of a heart attack in 1998. I always regretted that.

Nelson (left) with Waylon Jennings, celebrating their new new album, Waylon and Willie, 1978. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Nelsons solo rendition of My Way is a spare and honest reckoning. He has frequently faced the final curtain in defiant and affirmative lyrics: I woke up still not dead again today, and I didnt come here and I aint leavin. In recent years, he has outlived good friends and collaborators Merle Haggard, Ray Price and his bandmate Bee Spears. There are fewer and fewer people to turn to these days, he says. Im kind of my own psychiatrist.

I repeat something Kinky Friedman said of him: Willie walks through the raw poetry of time. Nelson has written some 2,500 songs, and numerous books, including two memoirs, but there is a part of him that remains unspoken and essentially mysterious, perhaps even to himself. Early on, he wrote three of his best songs Crazy, Funny How Time Slips Away and Night Life in the span of a week; even in anthems such as Whiskey River there is pure and stealthy lyricism, songs that understand their listeners better than they can articulate. Does Nelson even know, I wonder, where some of his deepest words come from?

Not really, he admits. You know, every song I write that Im proud of, I wonder how it got there. I think the same thing about Merles songs and Hank Williams. Im So Lonesome I Could Cry: what was Hank going through when he wrote that? He died when he was 29 compared to him, I havent had a lot of rough times at all.

But he has been through a mighty lot, I venture, thinking of the absence of his mother, of an often hard-lived life, of the loss of his son Billy to suicide in 1991. I think theres some things that can only come out in songs, Nelson agrees. You can write a beautiful book, but take verses out of it and put a melody to it and youve got another dimension.

I wrote something the other day that said, I dont want to write another song, but tell that to my mind! he continues, laughing. I just throw them out there and try to make them rhyme. I write everywhere, anywhere. I write a lot at home at night.

Its like birthing babies! Annie says from one of the buss built-in sofas. She doesnt mind; in fact, she stays up listening.

He thinks in lyrics first; the music comes after. Usually it starts as a poem, he says. At some point Ill get up and go get the guitar and see what kind of melody those words suggest. A song, he reckons, is just a poem with a melody. I say Ive always thought that words and melody just naturally found each other in his songs. Good! Nelson says. Fooled em again!

As the Family convenes onstage, dust shines up in the spotlights and a musky cloud wafts up from the front row to meet it. Under the lights, Triggers moonfaced complexion is visibly cratered where Nelson has dug into the wood. The crowd is a smoky sea of grizzled grandpas, grandmas in Dwight Yoakam shirts, teenagers whose uncles played them Nelson, people on dates, people in wheelchairs and people who look like they might have just come from the rodeo down the street. Like Nelson says: There are no political debates in my audiences. When he and the Family play Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, it is at once pro-weed anthem and as gospel as Hanks I Saw the Light. Nelson is the poet laureate of the guy in the parking lot; the girl, too.

At last when the house lights go up, a roadie gathers a bunch of rose petals scattered on the stage and tosses them unceremoniously in the direction of a few stragglers. I dont want it to be over! says a veterinarian near me, eyes shining. Willies even better than he was 10 years ago. Her friend confesses she missed that concert the last performance she saw here was the Spice Girls, 20 years ago but in the meantime she has converted to Willie too. Were farm girls from Mansfield, she says, reluctantly following the crowd out of the amphitheatre. The vet glances back at the emptying stage, and as Nelson has just done for us in song, voices the thing we are all thinking inside. Hes the last of them, she says. The last of the real ones.

My Way by Willie Nelson is out now on Legacy Recordings

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The country stars Imagination Library initiative, set up as a tribute to her illiterate father, reaches major milestone

Dolly Partons Imagination Library, the initiative she set up in honour of her illiterate father, has handed out its 100 millionth free book.

The book, a copy of Partons childrens picture book Coat of Many Colors, was donated to the Library of Congress in Washington DC, with which Parton has set up a partnership to live-stream story readings.

Dolly Parton (@DollyParton)

Today we dedicate the 100 Millionth @DollysLibrary Book to the @librarycongress! I always like to say that 100 million books have led to 100 million stories. #100MillionBooks

February 27, 2018

Parton began the Imagination Library in 1996 in Sevier County, Tennessee, where she was raised. Children whose families sign up are posted free books, funded via charitable giving.

Parton, who grew up with only the Bible in her house, has said she was inspired by the example of her father, who worked hard but didnt have the chance to learn to read or write. I thought, well, Im gonna do this: to get books in the hands of children, because if you can read, you can educate yourself, she told CNBC in 2016. The initiative expanded across the US in 2000, then set up in the UK in 2007 and Australia in 2013.

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