March 23, 1999 edition

Dolly celebrates her gospel roots and the not-so-charming snake

Some of Dolly Parton's most precious memories revolve around singing gospel as a child in her granddaddy's church, the House of Prayer.

"Gospel was an important part of life in the Smoky Mountains where I grew up," she says, "And religion was apart of everyday life. We were brought up in a church where, if somebody wanted to get up and sing or shout, they did. There was a feeling of freedom there."

Dolly's reliving those early days during the taping of a TNN special, "Precious Memories," which airs April 1 at 8 p.m. and April 3 at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

For an hour, Dolly shares her love of gospel music, helped by bluegrass group Alison Krauss and Union Station, gospel/bluegrass group The Cox Family and Dollywood's own group, Kingdom Heirs.

Many members of Dolly's own family are in the audience at a studio on the grounds of her Dollywood theme park.

"There's something unique about family harmony singing, 'blood harmonies,' we called 'em, and not surprisingly, many of our greatest groups are families who started out singing in church together," Dolly says. "There was even a group called The Parton Family Traveling Band."

Dolly introduces her brother Randy (Parton) and sister Rachel (Dennison), who are members of the country/pop group Honey Creek. Dolly reminisces about their childhood and how they traveled to local churches to sing.

As she starts one story, Dolly confides that it has a few bleeps in it, but, "Daddy said it in a church, so I reckon I can tell it now.

"Our daddy hated church and snakes, but he loved to hear us sing. Daddy always said, 'I don't want my kids in church with no snakes.' Our church didn't handle snakes, but of lot of people handled snakes as part of their religion.

"Because Daddy didn't go to church, he would stand outside and look in the windows to hear us sing, whenever we traveled around.

"One time we're at a little church, standing up in front of the congregation singing our little hearts out and people are saying, 'Hallelujah, praise the Lord' and shouting and we're thinking, 'We're really good and we're really touching these people.' We didn't know the preacher behind us had pulled out a snake.

"All of the sudden, Daddy comes down the isle, and we had never ever seen Daddy in a church, much less shouting. He was yelling, 'You get those bleeping snakes away from my bleeping kids, you bleep, bleeping, bleepster.'"

That cracks up the audience.

Another memory involves Dolly's mother. "When I was little, we didn't always have the things to entertain us like kids do now," Dolly tells the audience. "My mama used to sing to us and tell us stories about characters in the Bible, like Joseph and his coat of many colors. Now that I'm all grown up, I realize how rough it must have been for her.

"This is a little song I wrote about my mama and a little coat she made for me," Dolly adds as she launches into her hit "Coat of Many Colors" with Alison Krauss and The Cox Family's Suzanne Cox.

"When that song became a hit," Dolly discloses later. "I went out and bought her a mink coat."

Another precious memory and, as Dolly declares before closing the show, "There's a whole lot of America written in the poetry of gospel music, and whether you know it or not, there's a lot of gospel music in each and every one of us."

By Jeff Snook

For the unedited version of the snake story, click here. For the Dolly's gospel history, click here.