It’s hard to name a bigger country music icon than Dolly Parton.
The singer, songwriter, performer, philanthropist and author has won dozens of awards including nine Country Music Association awards, eight Grammys and was the recipient of the Grammys’ 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award. She’s written books and she’s starred in movies and television shows. She even has her own amusement park, Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, near where she grew up. And she’s still performing.
ABC News spoke to more than a dozen country music artists about the life lessons they have learned from Parton and why she and her work have been such a guiding light for their careers.
Dolly Parton is 'genuine,' someone who is always true to herself
Several country artists talked about how much they admired Parton’s ability to be unapologetically herself and that she isn’t afraid to laugh about it along the way.
“She doesn't take herself too seriously,” Carrie Underwood said. “She very much could, because she is this iconic, amazing, talented woman. But she knows how to laugh at herself. … She just handles everything with grace and humor and a smile, and I feel like she's just the most disarming person in the world.”
“Dolly Parton has never showed you a bad day in her life,” said Luke Bryan. “She always carries herself with such joy -- such spunk and sassiness -- and she's just an amazing human being.”
Maren Morris had never met Parton until they rehearsed for Parton’s all-star tribute performance at the 2019 Grammys in February.
Parton “was just funny and charming and spitfire, but also [had a] chill personality that you'd want her to be, and is so genuine,” Morris said. “So I think that we all could take a lesson from Miss Dolly.”
Thomas Rhett said he believes Parton has maintained her superstar status for so long “because she can light up a room and her personality is super infectious.”
Trisha Yearwood shared a funny story about a time she and Parton were on the same flight and Parton showed up in full hair and makeup.
“I'm getting on a plane early in the morning. I'm in overalls. I have on no makeup. I'm wearing a ball cap...and Dolly is Dolly, like, ‘Decked Out’ Dolly. … Dolly can't really go incognito, right?” Yearwood said, laughing. “So she said, ‘They're going to know it's me. So I just do the full-on [hair and makeup]. I'm just Dolly.’”
“We were on a four-hour flight from Nashville to L.A., and I watched her talk to everybody on that plane,” Yearwood continued. “I mean, she entertained for four hours. And that [is]…one of the reasons why she's Dolly Parton.”
Dolly Parton is a fighter, someone who sees what she wants out of life and goes for it
Several artists, including Keith Urban, mentioned how they admired Parton for sticking to her guns in an always-evolving music industry.
“Talk about someone who's been able to navigate all kinds of changes in music, and film, and everything over decades, and always be able to find ways to keep evolving as an artist, and never lost her identity, and yet still not be who she was 20 years ago,” Urban said.
“Dolly continues to prove, at the risk of sounding cliché, that anything is possible,” Hunter Hayes added. “She's bridged multiple genres. But it has never changed her sound and herself. Her voice has always been her voice. Her personality has always been her personality. Her dreams have always been her dreams.”
“When you think of a one-woman empire, you think of Dolly,” Miranda Lambert said. “She's a singer-songwriter. She plays instruments. And that's just one facet of her. Then there's acting and everything else that she does -- charities and businesses.”
Dolly Parton is someone who cares about others and gives back
One of the things Dierks Bentley said he adored about Parton was her “big heart.”
“You just have the few people that are literally the lighthouses for [country music], and she's one of them,” Bentley said.
As much as Parton is revered for being a talented singer, songwriter and musician, her philanthropy is also considered legendary.
A Tennessee native, Parton formed The Dollywood Foundation in 1988 to help decrease school dropout rates in Sevier County, Tennessee -- her home county. In 1995, she established the Imagination Library program, which sends one book per month to children from birth to kindergarten. It’s something that struck a chord with many country artists, including Luke Combs.
“I'm a big fan of songwriting, and I really have a lot of respect for people who write their own stuff,” Combs said. “Someone that's as prolific...not only an artist and an actor and activist and a leader in their community, [but as] someone who loves where they come from so much, and...she's just everything that I think you should strive to be when you get in a position to be able to have an impact on people's lives.”
In 2016, when wildfires caused widespread damage in eastern Tennessee, Parton not only donated her own money to families devastated by the disaster, she also organized a telethon with some of country music’s biggest names. In the end, it raised $13 million.
“She's always been really kind to my wife and I,” said Chris Janson, one of the artists who participated in the telethon. “She's written us handwritten letters and those kinds of things with events we've done for her.”
“She's great to people,” added Dan Smyers of pop duo Dan + Shay. “She's so charitable. She gives back, and that's such a great example for young artists like us. Dolly Parton's a songwriter, too… One of the best country songwriters of all time. Not only wrote hits for herself, but hits for other people, and that's something we look up to.”