A new Dolly Parton album is not necessarily news. In the past 50 years and nine months, she’s unveiled 43 studio albums, another four live ones and a mammoth 184 compilations. But this time, things are a little different.
For the first time ever, the musician has recorded a children’s album, ‘I Believe In You’, and she tells HuffPost UK that “it just seemed to make sense that this was the perfect year to do it”.
Despite her constant success, even Dolly Parton is still subject to to the requests of a record label, as she explains: “I have always wanted to do a children’s album and I talked about it many times but life in the business takes over.
“Somebody says, ‘oh we need to put out another album for the next tour etc etc…’. And so time goes by and you don’t do it.”
So why now? This is where her Imagination Library - which provides free books for children around the world and will benefit from the album’s proceeds - comes in.
Dolly isn’t the first celebrity to launch a charity, but she is the only one whose organisation is currently celebrating the fact it has sent 100 million books to children around the world.
In North America, the Imagination Library posts every single child their first book, a copy of ‘Little Engine That Could’, and they also operate in the UK, and one partnership, with Southwark Council, makes sure all under fives in the borough receive one book a month.
As the charity expands its reach, Dolly and her team are currently working to get books into the hands of children that have less than others, specifically those who have been left displaced and in need following recent natural disasters in the States.
“We’re donating hundreds of thousands of books to a lot of those victims in those places that have lost everything,” she says. “To schools and shelters and families, where they’re stuck with all of these calamities.
“And so that makes us feel good, to be able to help them that way too.”
Now that the foundation is 22 years old, Dolly often finds herself meeting university-age teenagers who received the books as infants, which is as rewarding and downright lovely as it sounds.
“That makes you feel really good, and all the ones I’ve met so far are really special children,” she says. “I like to think that the books have helped shape them into better people than they might have been otherwise.”
And with her focus currently on today’s kids, Dolly happily reflects on her own childhood and the lessons she learned along the way, crediting many of them to her family and summing up her own success with a simple, “I think I’ve done pretty well”.
“The things that I remember when I was young... When I went to church, my grandfather was a preacher, and I latched on to things like ‘through God all things are possible’,” she explains. “And the saying of ‘To thine own self be true’.
“I would take all those kinds of things and make them into something.
“Even sayings like ‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes one healthy, wealthy, and wise’, well I’m always early in bed and I’m always early to rise.
“I don’t know how wise I am but I’ve made a lot of money by getting up early and hustling and doing my job so there’s some truth in all of those things.”
“Doing my job” for Dolly is not the same as it is for most people. For a start, she featured on two other stars’ albums in 2017 alone, and spiritedly describes working with Kesha and Miley Cyrus as “getting the chance to sing with all these hot girls, trying to make me young again”.
“We’re all musicians when we go in to sing,” Dolly says. “There’s no idol worship, necessarily, when you’ve got to go in to record. How do you do that? You just go in and you’re all just girls who are singers, doing a job.
“It’s fun when you hear your voices blending and you feel that energy and excitement going down on the track. It’s a real thrill.”
Effortlessly moving between genuine humility and humbleness to impressive self-promotion, Dolly also highlights that “it’s wonderful that it’s [the album] coming out around the holidays, it’s going to make a good Christmas present for lots of kids this year!” - and each sentence ends, obviously, with a cackle.
Her overwhelming positive nature is never up for debate, but you don’t manage 50 years in the entertainment industry by being endlessly agreeable and when it comes to her many ventures - amusement park Dollywood, TV show and acting jobs to name just three - she’s as firm as she is fair.
“I can’t claim to know everything so I try to find people that are smarter than me,” Dolly says of her various ventures/business acumen. “I just have a lot of wonderful people running these businesses and I stay as hands on as I can and I’m aware of everything that’s going on.
“You just have to trust people to do their jobs and if you see that they’re not doing it, you just kind of do what you have to do - jerk a knot in their tail.”
So what does the future hold? A well-earned break? Time to relax and enjoy all of the hard-earned cash?
“I would actually love to do a children’s show someday, or some children’s special,” Dolly replies without hesitation, when the question is posed. “If this does well, I’d like to do an album of lullabies called ‘Dollybies’.
“I would love to do a cosmetic line with wigs, makeup and clothes, that sort of thing. I still have dreams that I hope come true.”
‘I Believe In You’ is out now. Find out more about the Imagination Library here.