The three newest members to the Country Music Hall of Fame -- Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty and Johnny Bond -- are pioneers who not only blazed new trails but paved the way for future stars to follow.
For many of today's top female singers, Dolly Parton is the standard-bearer, the lady they admire most. "She is the model of what a country star should be,"Patty Loveless once remarked. "Dolly is a great singer who was glamorous, but also a very sharp business person."
Reba McEntire adds, "Dolly was probably the biggest influence on me because she did it all -- music, television, movies. She proved that women didn't have to be held back."
Dolly, along with Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, helped change how women in country music were perceived. Many of her hits, including "Here You Come Again," "9 to 5,"and "Dumb Blonde," attacked stereotypes and brought a new level of aggressive commentary to country music.
Her views, coupled with a sense of down-home humor, made her an international celebrity in the 1970s, when such status was considered almost impossible. Dolly became a hard-to-miss presence on talk shows, specials, movies and even her own TV series in 1976.
In 1978, Dolly was named the CMA Entertainer of the Year, becoming at the time only the second female performer (Loretta Lynn was the first) to win that prestigious honor. Dolly also won Female Vocalist of the Year twice -- in 1975 and 1976.
Too often overlooked is Dolly's impressive songwriting prowess. She could be inspirational in songs like "Coat of Many Colors," based on a childhood incident, or strongly emotional as in her classic "I Will Always Love You," which was also a pop hit for Whitney Houston.
Now the native Tennessean who grew up in Appalachian poverty has secured a richly deserved spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame. . .
UNFORGETTABLE: CMA Moments Carved In History
. . . Since the awards were first telecast live in 1969, they've always provided unexpected drama, laughs and tender moments.
In 1997, an elated Deana Carter couldn't contain herself and jumped into Ricky Skaggs' arms, wrapping her legs around his waist, when he announced that her hit "Strawberry Wine" had won Single of the Year.
"I have apologized so many times for that," Deana admits. "But Ricky's always been very good about it."
Deana, in fact, followed in the flirtatious footsteps of Dolly Parton, who made Randy Travis blush like a schoolboy at the 1988 show. As Dolly saluted the year's Male Vocalist nominees, she wandered through the audience, plunked herself down on Randy's lap and remarked how "cute" the young singer looked. Sheepish Randy was speechless, until he was announced as the winner for the second year in a row. . .
(Note: Dolly hosted the awards that year, and in 1989, when Randy came out to give an award, Dolly snuck up behind him on stage to remind him of their shared experience the year before.)
. . .Dolly Parton was just about to step into the spotlight in 1978 when the front of her dress gave way. She ended up accepting the Entertainer of the Year award with a borrowed fur coat held in front of her famous cleavage.
"You shouldn't put 50 pounds of mud," Dolly quipped, "in a five-pound sack!" . . .
(Note: In addition to being inducted into the Hall of Fame at this year's CMA Awards, Dolly, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris are nominated for Vocal Event of The Year for Trio II. The show will air on CBS Sept. 22.)