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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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The 73-year-old country singer has won over a new generation of fans and plans to capitalise on it

With catchphrases including it costs a lot of money to look this cheap and if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain, Dolly Parton was a master of the sassy quote long before Instagram made such quips internet catnip. Little wonder, then, that the 73-year-old star is finding a new fanbase in the social media generation, inspiring a raft of fashion collections, TV shows and podcasts.

This week Shrimps a label known for bubblegum-coloured faux fur coats worn by celebrities such as Alexa Chung launched its latest collection, for which Dolly was a key reference. Featuring rodeo prints, wide-brim hats and fringe detailing, the clothes pay homage to the feminised take on western wear with which Parton has long been associated.

An outfit from the new Shrimps collection. Photograph: PR company handout/Company handout

I particularly love her outfits from the early days, says the Shrimps designer Hannah Weiland. She had such an individual, strong sense of style that has always stayed true to who she is.

Weiland is not the only designer influenced by Partons retro, glamorous take on cowboy style. This autumn/winter, at Isabel Marant, V-neck dresses were reminiscent of western-style shirts with yoke detailing. At Moschino, jewel-embellished jackets and sequinned minidresses were worn with big, bouffant hair a Dolly Parton signature. Dressed up denim a Parton staple was found at labels including Philipp Plein, while there was shimmering fringing at Alexander McQueen and leather at Victoria/Tomas. Last year, Guccis spring/summer show featured a jacket with the singers face emblazoned across the back.

The big-haired singer will also capitalise on the trend herself. Last week, she told The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon that she would be creating her own line of perfume maybe called Dolly, I dont know yet as well as wigs and skincare. People follow me down the street wanting to know what Im wearing because they love the smell, she told Fallon. News of Partons perfume range follows the announcement this year that the singer would be launching her own clothes, jewellery, accessories and home goods line in partnership with the international agency IMG. Her first collection of apparel and accessories is expected next autumn.

Parton certainly has a captivated audience of potential customers online. On Instagram, where she has 2.2 million followers, she is well known for kitsch throwback posts, such as the photograph of herself and Cher in 1978 with matching gravity-defying hair, captioned casual Friday.

Fashions interest reflects growing Dollymania in the wider culture. Last week saw the release of the Netflix anthology series Dolly Partons Heartstrings, hot on the heels of the new podcast Dolly Partons America.

A publicity image from Dolly Partons Heartstrings. Photograph: 2018 Warner Bros Entertainment/Tina Rowden/Netflix

She obviously has longevity which suddenly seems important in an unstable world, says the fashion historian Tony Glenville of Partons current appeal. The ruffled, flounced Grand Ole Opry style is a trend with some designers whose take on the 80s hovers very near saloon girl and country and western.

At a time when fashion is often used as a platform for protest, Partons influence may appear somewhat incongruous: the singer has long refused to speak out on political issues as well as, more recently, the #MeToo movement. Yet, as the New York Times noted in its own assessment of Partons recent renaissance, the attributes that used to set her up for criticism the outrageous, hyper-femme style the so-what acknowledgment of her own cosmetic surgery are no longer taboo.

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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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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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Fires that have raged for days in the Great Smoky Mountains and the popular resort town of Gatlinburg, killing seven people, are now 10% contained

After a day of rain slowed down raging fires in Tennessee, local officials began a cleanup on Thursday as thousands of evacuees hoped to return to their homes.

The fires raged for two days, ravaging the Great Smoky Mountains and the town of Gatlinburg, killing seven people and leaving dozens more injured.

The Southern Area Incident Management Team said on Wednesday that only ten percent of the fire had been contained and the day of rain was not enough to put out the flames completely.

Fire activity will increase until significant rainfall is received over several days, the team said in a statement. The rain we received may have slowed this fire for a day or two at a critical time, but the threat from this fire is still there.

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The country legends latest isnt quite the kind of back-to-basics project that gave Johnny Cashs late career such a boost, but its a step in that direction

Dolly Parton long ago ascended to icon status. Its decades since she transcended the genre of country music and became a vast global brand: these days, the headlines are more likely to be about her theme parks or her philanthropy than her music. She can always pack arenas with people eager to hear Jolene, 9 to 5 and her triple-tested between-song patter her 2011 Better Day tour grossed $34m (25.84m); her 2014 appearance at Glastonbury drew both a record-breaking crowd and the festivals biggest TV audience that year.

But its a kind of celebrity that comes with a downside. Theres the sense that the glitz and the hits overshadow the breadth of her songwriting talents her back catalogue may be waist-deep in schmaltz, but its also studded with lesser-known gems, from 1976s country-rocker Shattered Image to 1971s masterpiece of pass-aggy vitriol She Never Met a Man She Didnt Like and the vague sense that her latterday albums exist mostly to give her a reason to tour. In 2014, Blue Smoke went platinum in the UK, but you do wonder how much that had to do with the 20-track Best of CD bundled with it over here in the wake of her Glastonbury appearance. Its follow-up arrives attached to a second CD containing a live recording of that performance.

In fact, Partons latterday discography looks pretty odd: umpteen explorations of bluegrass next to an album of patriotic songs that features Dolly belting out When Johnny Comes Marching Home and Tie a Yellow Ribbon, apparently in response to 9/11 (2003s For God and Country is perhaps best-remembered for its cover photo, notes Wikipedia, darkly); straight up MOR pop-country alongside Those Were the Days, which features a selection of cover versions housed in a sleeve that looks weirdly like one of those early 70s Top of the Pops covers albums, the latter clearly a godsend for anyone desperate to hear Dolly Parton performing the titular Mary Hopkin hit in the company of both Hopkin herself and the Moscow State Circus.

You could take all this as evidence of an admirable diversity, or of an artist who isnt really sure what she wants to do these days, but either way, one thing her oeuvre could usefully stand is a kind of back-to-basics affair, her own equivalent of Johnny Cashs an album that dares to scrapes the inch-thick sugar coating off her music to reveal the grit you occasionally noticed on her 70s albums: the Dolly Parton of Travellin Man or The Bargain Store.

This is, more or less, what Pure and Simple purports to be: the promotional material talks of taking my fans back to my roots, boasting that we didnt go overboard with arrangements, although such things are relative: by the time you get to the middle of the album, theres a full band and back-up singers involved. Only in the world of Dolly Parton could Forever Love a song so laden with sugar that Jamie Oliver may shortly get up a campaign to have it banned be considered a thing of classy understatement.

That said, the band on Head Over High Heels is tougher sounding than you might expect, and there are moments where things are noticeably pared back: to solo piano on Mama or acoustic guitar and fiddle on Say Forever Youll Be Mine. You dont want to spend too much time concentrating on the formers lyric, which seems designed to bring the mens rights activists out in a standing ovation she cooks and cleans and sews shes daddys lovin wife but the sparse sound gives you a close up look at Partons voice, which is in remarkable shape for a 70-year-old, and as idiosyncratic as ever: a quivering, breathy flutter that can variously sound wide-eyed innocent and conspicuously filthy, occasionally in the same song. Kiss It (And Make It Better) starts out as a typical bit of sepia-tinted childhood nostalgia, but ends somewhere else entirely, the title delivered with a knowing wink to camera.

It also shows off her songwriting abilities: the title track, Say Forever Youll Be Mine and Cant Be That Wrong are all superior examples of Nashville songcraft. But the latter also reveals the albums big failing: Partons inability to, as she once put it, leave no rhinestone unturned. It starts out as a raw cheating ballad, flipping between wracked and defiant, its impact sharpened by being performed by just Parton and a guitar. Then, midway through, theres a sudden sweep of chimes and the band comes in and the mood changes from flinty and sparse to syrupy and sentimental. Its frustrating: if Parton would just dial down the kitsch a bit more, shed have a genuinely fantastic album on her hands.

But then Dolly Parton has never done that. Even at her mid-70s peak, the tougher songs were always separated by a sea of slush: on Jolene, the album that produced her two greatest songs, I Will Always Love You and the title track, still had to share space with pretty mawkish filler. Some great songs, some not-so-great songs, an impressively sharp realism that gets submerged beneath corn and goo: perhaps this album does offer pure Dolly Parton after all.

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The genre that once boasted the likes of Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn now shuts young women out of country radio and the problems actually getting worse

The glass ceiling shattered in US politics last week with Hillary Clinton as the first woman nominated by a major party for president. So if the inevitable can happen in Washington, why does Nashville remain so backwards?

Research commissioned this year by Change the Conversation, an activist group for female artists in country music, found that starting in 2008, country music radio and the labels that service them have largely turned away from female performers at an alarming rate. Stanford University researcher Devarati Ghosh used Billboards Country Airplay chart to segment findings into three time clusters: 1992-1999, 2000-2007, and 2008-2015. Her findings showed the presence of women on the charts diminished over the years.

With the popularity of Faith Hill, Sara Evans, Shania Twain and others, the 1990s were the glory years for women in country music. Major labels brought 41 new solo female artists and 67 new male artists to radio. Despite lower numbers, women actually had more hits 44% to 42% of men in the top 20. The early to mid-00s show a reversal: labels introduced 43 and 56 new female and male artists, respectively. Yet only 40% of those women had a top 20 single compared with 55% of men.

The most recent period, coinciding with the Obama presidency, has been even worse for women. At the height of bro country, labels introduced just 31 female artists compared with 51 new men. The result: 32% of women appeared in the top 20, compared with 57% of men.

While country radio has made room for fewer and fewer women, the data also shows that not one of the 10 women who had a top 20 hit ever landed a second one.

On her blog last month, Ghosh said: The proportion of solo females being brought to country radio remained pretty steady over the three blocks, but [their] success rate has declined significantly.

The data affirms what many female artists in Nashville have known for years. As bro country has dominated the charts in recent years with artists such as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, women have largely been relegated to the sidelines. Indeed, according to industry publication Country Aircheck, only seven artists in the top 50 of those being spun this week on country radio are women.

What makes the situation frustrating is that there is no clear explanation for the imbalance. Radio gatekeepers often insist that audiences are simply less interested in hearing women singers, but their evidence is often anecdotal. The situation caught fire last year when radio consultant Keith Hill told Country Aircheck that stations should refrain from playing too many female artists, especially back-to-back.

If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out, he said. Trust me, I play great female records and weve got some right now; theyre just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.

Hill said his reasoning is based on music tests from over the years and responses from more than 300 of his client radio stations. His comments inadvertently caused a backlash from every pocket of the business from managers to labels to artists. On Facebook, Miranda Lambert called Hills comments the biggest bunch of bullshit I have ever heard and vowed to vigorously promote female singer-songwriters in country music always.

Beverly Keel, a former music executive in Nashville who now chairs the recording industry department at Middle Tennessee University in Murfreesboro, says that the collective shunning has had significant cultural implications over the years. When country radio stopped playing so many women, the labels stopped signing as many women and publishers stopped hiring female songwriters, she told the Guardian. If country radio was playing women, the labels would sign them. Its unbelievable this is happening in 2016.

Singer Martina McBride echoed the sentiment to CBS News last year, calling the problem a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have record companies that dont invest in female artists or sign female artists as much, thinking theyre not going to get the return in investment or get played on the radio.

Already, there are signs of the ripple effect. Pop stars such as Pink, Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry are being hired to perform at country music award shows or hired as duet partners with male country singers because there are so few country newcomers who are women. Other bona fide country stars, such as the Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift, have broken ranks with the format and are now freely in pop territory, where the gender problem is not an issue. Fewer women on the country scene also means men dominate the conversation, which is why so much of country radio is ridden with songs about driving trucks or relationships from the male perspective. Different For Girls, one of the years few songs to look at a break-up from the womans side of things, was written by Dierks Bentley.

It certainly wasnt always this way. Back in the 1930s, singer Patsy Montana broke down the gender wall with I Want to Be a Cowboys Sweetheart, which was not only the first million-selling song written by a woman, it was also one of the first songs in country music to express a womans point of view. That song led to decades of strong female songwriters and stars Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood and many others who all widened the doorway for women to claim space in whatever direction the music was traveling at the time. Yet these days, a song from a womans perspective Loretta Lynns 1975 breakthrough single The Pill comes to mind would probably never make it on country radio.

Naturally, this is a problem for new female songwriters fresh on the scene. Kalie Shorr, 22, moved to Nashville three years ago and says that she had many meetings along Music Row with labels that lauded her talents but told her: We dont have room for another female on the roster. Back home, Shorr says she would pull up the same labels website and see it had a handful of women but more than two dozen men. She says she believes labels are afraid to take chances with more women because of the perception that audiences are simply not interested. Everyone is caught in a vicious cycle and afraid to go out on a limb, she says.

Hills comments last year inspired her to collaborate with two other women Hailey Steele and Lena Stone and in January she released the result: Fight Like a Girl, a song that takes the controversy head-on: I shine brightest when the goings tough / You say I cant, well darling watch me, she sings. The song, also a rarity because it was written entirely by women, is already an underground hit, earning a million Spotify streams and more than 350,000 views on YouTube. The songs popularity is not from terrestrial radio, where she struggles to get on playlists, but from alternative outlets such as Radio Disney Country and Sirius XM. The song helped get her a booking agent but as for a major label, she says she still wants one to help her get to the next level. But now she is more cautious.

Waiting for the right one is so important, she says.

Despite the frustration, there is the sense that things are slowly changing despite those challenges. Margo Price, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Cam and others are millennial-aged newcomers who are defying the odds, both in what they are singing about and how they stand out. Change the Conversation is active in showcasing their challenges and is helping new singer-songwriters in town through mentorship programs and showcases.

The problem of having so few females on country radio is fewer women can hear songs they can relate to and speak to their own lives. And what does that say to our daughters? says Keel, a co-founder of Change.

Shorr says that women dont necessarily want to write party anthems, which has become the staple for male artists on country radio. If women had more of a shot, the quality of the songs would finally deepen. Thats what people love about women in country, she says.

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In a changing world, the country star is a constant, cheering presence: I try every day to leave something in this world that is a little better and a bit brighter

Dolly Parton is back on the road. The legendary singer-songwriter and theme park impresario is in the middle of her first full North American tour in 25 years and next month releases a back-to-basics album of new songs, Pure and Simple (I dont know how pure I am, but Im pretty simple, she characteristically declared at the press conference to launch it).

At 70, she is now slowing down. Once this tour ends in December, she says she plans to jump into a television producer role to guide a forthcoming NBC series about her early life. Last week she spoke by phone about the tour, her career, and her eternal positivity.

You recently said in the New York Times you would be endorsing Hillary Clinton.

No, I did not say that. That was a misquote. I have not endorsed Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Someone asked me, Would I think about a woman being president? I was saying that I think a woman would be great, Im sure Hillary would be fine. I have not endorsed either candidate. I was only saying I might run myself because I have the hair for it, its huge. And I think we could use more boobs in the race. I do not get involved in political things. I have not decided who I am voting for.

Dolly Parton in concert at the PNC Bank Arts Center, New Jersey, in June. Photograph: ddp USA/REX/Shutterstock

This is your first full North American tour in 25 years. What will people expect?

We try to do a little something for everybody. I try to be as entertaining as I can be. But we do of course all of the hits that people expect me to do 9 to 5, I Will Always Love You, Two Doors Down, Jolene. And then of course I do my family segment. Where I talk about my family and do a lot of the songs from back home and reminisce. We do some gospel stuff. I try to be funny.

The name of our tour is Pure and Simple. Because we really have a very small band. I broke it down more than I ever done since the early days. On the Pure and Simple album, theyre all songs Ive written, all love songs. Ive been married 50 years this past year to my husband Carl Dean, so I thought it would be a good time to do an album of love songs. But theyre also pure in nature and pretty simple. A lot of them sound like the very old records I used to record long ago that I think some of my true fans will appreciate.

Loretta Lynn has had great success with Jack White and he has talked about his wish to work with you. Have you met with him?

Well, I love him to death. [The White Stripes] did one of the greatest versions ever of Jolene. I had a chance to have dinner with Jack in LA not long ago and we talked about the possibility of someday down the road that we may get together to do something. I havent had time to sit down and really focus with someone else on an album. But he would be someone wonderful. And I think we would make some beautiful music together.

What is the difference between you and the image you present publicly?

I think Im pretty much the same. Im really as talky behind the scenes as I am out on the stage. I just bear my heart on my sleeve and I say whats in my heart and whats on my mind. And people have come to know me for the last fiftysomething years like that. I dont believe I have too many big secrets. I do love people and I think thats from being brought up in a big family. I work harder at some things than others, but my personality is the same.

Is there one instrument you rely on the most to write songs?

I play quite a few instruments, a lot of mountain instruments the banjo, the autoharp, the dulcimer. It depends on what Im writing. I use the guitar mostly. But if I really want to get into some old-timey sounds, Ill get out of my country instruments like that and write with them. I do write some at the piano, and sometimes it lets my mind go freer. I write with different instruments but sometimes I write with no instruments.

Do you see yourself as an early feminist in country music as many do?

I think a lot of people relate to me because of my rural background. A lot of people were brought up kind of hard. Because they know I came from very humble beginnings with a lot of grief and a lot of guts. Being a girl on top of that, you have to be strong. I grew up in a family of six brothers and all my uncles and my dad. So I always had a great respect and understanding of men. But I had a lot of power because of my six sisters, my mother and my grandmother. So Im a very rounded-out person.

Dolly Parton onstage circa 1977. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

How do you assess how women are faring on country radio where many have complained you dont hear a lot of women?

Actually I think we have a lot of wonderful female artists in the business today. Im really proud of them, too. I have always been proud to be a woman. And Ive always been treated well. Of course wed like to be played [on the radio] all the time. We certainly should be respected and appreciated for our talent like anybody else. And I think we are.

Is there one song that you are proudest of writing?

Coat of Many Colors [from 1971] is the song thats closest to my heart. It means more to me for so many different reasons. Its about mama, its about an attitude and a philosophy and covers a lot of territory, even bullying. But I love some of my love songs from my old albums like [1970s] Down from Dover, which has always been one of my favorites. It never was a single or a hit. But it was just a story song that I loved.

Youre also one of the few country music stars with a strong LGBT following.

Well, I dont really know why for sure. Im just happy it is. Ive often said people dont come to see me to see me, they come to see me to see them.

Ive been around so long, so a lot of people grew up with me. I feel more like a family member or an aunt or an older sister or a friend. They know Im a little different myself. Ive fought for the right to be myself, so that is one of the reasons that the gays and lesbians relate to me. They know that I appreciate everybody for who they are. We are who we are, so why cant we be allowed to be that? I aint out to preach no sermons, Im just out to do my work, sing my songs and write them, and love people and share them.

Dolly Parton and Katy Perry perform Coat Of Many Colors at the 51st annual Academy of Country Music Awards in April. Photograph: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

In 2014 you said you were working on a dance album geared toward the LGBT community. Is that still in the works?

Every time I start to work on that, something else comes up, like this big tour. Ill have to put that dance album on the shelf again. But one day I promise you I will get that out. One of the songs is Im a Wee Bit Gay. Its a fun, tongue-in-cheek type of song. I promise Ill get it out.

Even people who may not know your music will know you for your irrepressibly upbeat personality. How do you account for that?

I love what I do. I have the freedom to work. I try every day to leave something in this world that is a little better and a bit brighter. I ask God everyday. Im not a religious person, but Im very spiritual. I see so much darkness in this world. I just want to be some sort of light. I want to do something to lift the spirits of somebody.

I get down like everybody else. Im a very sensitive person. So things will hurt me. But I try to have a good attitude. If I get down, I try to get up as quick as I can and bring everybody else up with me.

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The 70-year-olds underappreciated musical talents and southern hospitality were on full display in Queens, including several thankful acknowledgements of her LGBT fans during pride weekend

You know what I say, Dolly Parton told her audience in Forest Hills, Queens, on Saturday night at her Pure & Simple tour. It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.

It didnt matter that hers was an old joke: the audience roared with laughing approval.

Thats the biggest truth I ever told, she added.

Thats probably not true. That Jolene is about a long-legged homecoming queen who worked at the local bank and was flirting with Partons then new husband was probably truth-like; that Parton felt really good cashing the checks for the song about her was more realistic. That she loved and appreciated her audience for letting me see all my little-girl dreams come true was probably truth-like; I never leave a rhinestone unturned was, perhaps, a more scripted but emotionally honest version of events.

That Dolly Parton is an underappreciated musical prodigy, underestimated by virtue of her gender and her big-haired, admittedly surgically enhanced performance of it and her genre is probably the truth that any even minor fan would take away from watching her on her latest tour, the biggest in 25 years.

The 70-year-old, accompanied by three male musicians who have been backing her for between 28 and 45 years, played no less than eight instruments during her nearly two-hour-long concert; she sang multiple songs a capella in perfect pitch; and she told enough personal, slightly meandering stories in her lilting, southern-accented soprano that, even in the uppermost rows of the converted tennis court that is the Forest Hills stadium, fans must have felt like they were in a tiny, intimate venue.

And though one might expect a baby boomer country singer who sings about her relationship with Jesus and invites people to pray for one another to, at best, politely elide over the fact that a tremendous proportion of the audience on New York Citys pride weekend was LGBT, the woman who told the New York Times this week that she was proud of her LGBT fans made a special effort to acknowledge their presence multiple times, even telling the audience that the bullying she chronicled in her song Coat of Many Colors was akin to theirs.

Its not fun for people to make you feel less than for who you are, she said to cheers.

Artists of Partons stature might toss out one or two old standbys in a tour intended to promote her new albums Pure and Simple is scheduled for release on 26 August and The Complete Trios compilation with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris comes out on 9 September out of a sense of pique or entitlement. Not Parton.

From Jolene to Islands in the Stream to 9-to-5, youd have to be the Comic Book Guy of her catalogue to have felt like she skipped one of her best. Behind me, during Islands with which Parton encouraged the audience to sing along a woman with a beautiful voice apologized to her companion by saying: This is my karaoke song.

She was hardly alone: when Parton asks you to sing along with one of her songs that is drilled into American cultural memory, youre helpless to resist.

There might be some way for some person not to enjoy a concert by a musical legend like Dolly Parton, who still has her full vocal range even as her contemporaries are heading into retirement or worse. Perhaps someone who only appreciates songs that sound exactly like they do on the CD, or who prefers their artists sing song after song and leave the stage with barely an acknowledgment of the audience, would be disappointed that Parton manages to find nuances in her own work that many fans wont have heard before and mines covers of her work for inspiration such as Norah Joness jazzy version of The Grass Is Blue.

But who, after being told by Parton how much she appreciated their fandom, would dare admit that?

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