National Press Club Q&A

Questions read by NPC President Jack Kushman.

Read Dolly's speech to the Press Club here.

Read Dolly's address to the Association of American Publishers here.

March 23, 2000

Washington, D.C.


Q. Well, the question that I had several people wrote up and they just wanted to say, "I love you."

A: Ah. (Audience applause)

Q. You had a number of them.

A. Oh, really. That is, that's easy. (Audience laughter) I love them.

Q. You've written an awful lot of lyrics. The one that always got my attention was, "I'm just a country road that you keep turning down." (Dolly and audience laughter) What's your, what's your favorite country lyric that you ever wrote?

A: The one that I wrote? Well, the one that I, is my favorite song is the "Coat of Many Colors." But the one I like the most 'cause it made me the most money is "I Will Always Love You." (Audience laughter) You wanna help me sing that?

Q. You don't wanta got there. (Audience laughter)

A. (Singing) And I-I-I. No, maybe I don't! (Audience and Dolly laughter)

Q. What book had the greatest effect on you?

A. Ah. Well, I guess the Bible actually because that's the one I heard first and learned first. But actually, one of the reasons we picked The Little Engine That Could, I always loved that little story when I was a kid. And so, I have several books. I've always loved books. And I don't remember a time when I couldn't read. Because I'm so thankful for that. 'Cause I think if you can read that you can just go anywhere and do anything in the whole wide world. And just kind of, and I love fairy tales. So I still guess the Bible.

Q. Someone thought your last movie with Burt Reynolds was just wonderful and wants to know when you're ever going to make another film with Burt Reynolds.

A. Well, that must've been The Best Little Chickenhouse in Texas (Audience laughter) that you was talking about. I don't know. I haven't seen Burt in, in a long time. We, we haven't talked about doing any movies. But it was fun. I love working with all those guys. I have better success with the women like 9 to 5 and Steel Magnolias and doing the Trios with Linda and Emmy. (Audience applause) I always have great success with women, but I love the men the most. (Audience laughter)

Q. Have you ever had any problems remaining close to your roots when you're such a public person?

A. No. In fact, I think that's the thing that's kept me sane. I, I try to always remember where I came from, who I am and why I wanted to do this to start with. It was not to get away from my family. It was not because I wasn't proud of my home, that I wanted to leave it. I just wanted to take the Smoky Mountains where ever I went. And I did! (Motions to chest; audience and Dolly laughter)

Q. Moving right along. (Audience laughter)

A. He's getting red! (Audience laughter)

Q. Dolly. (Audience laughter) What single. (Audience laughter) What single advice would you give to a 20-year-old woman out in the audience here today?

A. Well, about what? (Audience laughter) She didn't say. Well, actually I would give the same advice to a young woman as I a young man. Anybody that has a dream, I think first of all in order to achieve that dream you have to believe in it. You have to be willing to work for it. You have to be willing to sacrifice. I've always believed that I had more guts than I had talent. But you do have to put some backbone behind what your dreams are. And if you, if you believe in what it is that you're after, well just stuck with it until you see that it ain't gonna work, and then change into something that might.

Q. Of all the performing arts that you're involved in, producing and acting and singing, which is your favorite?

A. Well, my favorite personal thing to do is to write songs. I love to sing but I think writing is my favorite thing. 'Cause it's kinda something I can do. Well, a lot of people can sing, but I don't think a lot of people write. I don't know if I'm that good, but I just get excited when I get a chance to write because it's like I feel like maybe there'll be something in the world tomorrow that wasn't here today. So good or bad it just gives me something creative to do. And it's kinda like my therapy if I can write it down. If I'm happy, then I can write about that. If I'm sad, I can write about that. Saves money on the psychiatrist, too. (Audience laughter)

Q. My wife's a psychologist; she'll be very unhappy to hear that. (Audience and Dolly laughter) But she asked me to ask you, what do you do to make sure that the readings that you're giving the kids are right for the development of those kids at the stage of life that they're at? Do you have experts consulting with you about literacy?

A. I'm glad you asked that question because I would never even dream of taking it on myself to pick a book for a young child to read. But we do have wonderful, well a committee of people that decide on which books we give out through the library. We have authors, and we have child, people that work with children, and we have like child psychologists and different things and educators that decide on what they think would be the best for children of that age. And, then of course, the parents get a chance to read with the kids, too. But we don't take it on ourselves to think that we learn, that's a lot of responsibility. It's hard to know how to, how to deal with children anyway. And exactly what to teach them, but I think if we all try a little harder, going back to the song "Try," I think if we try to find out what is best for our children I think we can give them a much better start than some of 'em get.

Q. My grandmother used to tell us that, you know, when you have a baby, she'd say, "Don't worry, the instructions come with them." But where do, where do you turn for information about what kids need? How do you teach yourself what kids need?

A. Well, like I say, even as a parent, which I have no children. I've been instrumental in helping raise several of my younger brothers and sisters, but you really have to pay attention to the child. You have to actually respect the nature and the personality of the child 'cause every child is different. My mother was a great example of that because she had 12 children, six boys and six girls, and every one of us were different. We have similar, you know, personalities traits, but our desires and our needs were completely different. So you have to turn to God, one of the first things, like my Mama would. That's what I do, you know, if I'm needing direction about anything, especially about children. And, then again, as I say, you turn to the people, the experts, the people that's supposed to know, and just hope that you're doing the right thing.

Q. There's a lot of philanthropic work that goes on, foundations like yours and other wealthy people who use their money for social purposes, but the government has a role to play, too. Do you ever think about what the government ought to be doing, and do you have advice for the government in this area?

A. Well, I try not to get too involved in any political issues, but I think the government, as well as parents, as well as communities, organizations, everybody should get involved. Especially get involved in trying to help the youth and the children, you know, of, of the day. So I think we could always do more. It's just like when people say to me, "Oh, it's so nice of you that you're doing this or doing that," I think, well, I could and should be doing so much more, but at least if you're trying to do something maybe out of all that, if enough people do try to do something I think that eventually, maybe we'll make a more of a difference than we have. But, yes, I think the government should do more, with everything.

Q. Are you writing songs? Do you have another album in the works these days?

A. Well, I have the bluegrass album. You just mentioned that this is a big bluegrass community here, I don't know why that is, but I guess it's because people come from different places. My new album is called The Grass is Blue. It's the first authentic, full bluegrass album that I've done. I, I grew up with bluegrass music, and this one, I mean I've done different bluegrass songs on different albums scattered around. But this one, we used only the best bluegrass authentic musicians. And the difference in bluegrass and country, for those of you that don't know, it's like, in, in bluegrass, you work twice as hard, get half the money (Audience laughter) but you have twice the fun. It's a great music. And it's all acoustic is the difference. It's the harmonies that make it so special. And all the acoustic instruments like mandolins, banjos, and no drums, no electric bass, or any of that. But I plan to actually get more involved in music like the folk music. In fact, my next album, hopefully, is going to be a folk album. And so, we may call it Common Folk; that's what the title is at the moment. A lot of the old songs that I grew up with, that Mama used to sing. She not only used to read to us, she used to also sing all the old mountain songs, the old English ballads and Scottish and Irish ballads. So I'm going to do some more of those things as time goes by, in addition to some of the other stuff.

Q. Well, it sounds like you're exploring a lot of new areas with your music. Is this, a, did you find it was time to move on from old fashioned Top 50 country music?

A. You're not reading off of them papers! (Audience laughter) He's wantin' this information for hisself! (Audience and Dolly laughter) Where did it say that on that paper? (Audience laughter) Are you trying to get in show business and you want some information? (Audience and Dolly laughter)

Q. You don't have your glasses on, you don't know what this says. (Audience laughter)

A. It does say that! But anyway, what was the question? What was your question? (Audience laughter)

Q. What is it that made you move beyond the, the country music that I used to hear when I was growing up in Tennessee and to go into the more exploratory areas, folk, bluegrass as so on?

A. Well, actually, the folk and bluegrass was part of my growing up and country, but actually getting more involved in, in the pop music, I just love being able to do everything. 'Cause I have a very outgoing personality, as you might've noticed. (Audience laughter) And I just really love to feel like I'm part of everything. I don't, I don't want to feel like just 'cause I'm a country girl and grew up in the country that's all I get to do. But, by the same token, the fact that I get to be in the movies and be on television and sing pop, my gut still says I'm a country girl, and those songs actually ring truer to me than anything else that I do because that's part of the fabric of my whole being and my whole upbringing. So I, I hope to continue to do all sorts of things just long as people will let me and there's a market for it. Now, what does that really say? (Audience laughter)

Q. What it really says is, "How's Carl?"

A. How's Carl? (Audience and Dolly laughter) Same as always. Well, I've mentioned Carl before. It's like my first marriage, his first marriage, and we've been together 35 years and I'm sick of it. (Audience laughter) Just kiddin', Carl!

Q. Do you want one of my questions or one of these questions? What are the trade-offs with celebrity and fame against your loss of privacy and so on?

A. Well, that's a good question. I, I really wanted to be a star. I have to honestly say that I have such an outgoing personality that I don't look at it like some of the stars that get to be famous and then they despise the people for running after them and wanting autographs. I appreciate it. I can't always do everything that everybody asks me to do or sign every autograph, but I really love the people. And I think that if you really like doing what you that you'll find a way to make that work for you. And I, I know, that you know, if it gets to be dangerous, so I don't have to run around with, you know, with security all the time. Because I really refuse to live my life in a bubble. You know, I like to go do the things. And I know when and where I can go and what I can do to be safe with it. And it doesn't bother me for people to recognize me. In fact, I think I'd be very disappointed if they didn't. And that's why I dress like this when I go to the store! (Audience laughter) I don't want 'em to say, "I saw Dolly Parton today, and God, she looks awful in person!" They might say that, but most of the time when people see me they just, you know, they're just more surprised that I'm short. They think that I'm a very tall person. And that's the main thing that people say about me. But I would've been tall if I hadn't of got so bunched up at the top. (Pause, then audience laughter) A little slow, ain't ya? (Audience and Dolly laughter)

Q. This question says that the South is still the subject of comedians' jokes about ignorance. Do you have a, how long does this have to go on, and, and how can it be changed?

A. As long as we're ignorant. (Audience and Dolly laughter) Well, I think we're doing our part to try and change it now. That's why we're here talking about education, talking about books. They're great people in the South, and people talk about how ignorant we are. We're not ignorant; we're just, most of us are just uneducated. And I think that where it comes from. Because the smartest people I know are the people that can't read and write. Like, you oughta know my Daddy. He don't even know how to write our names, or read our names, but like, you give him a project or something to do, he's just brilliant. So I think that until we get the educations and actually get, and it's not everybody. There's a lot of pretty smart people coming from the South. And so, it's not just about that. But I think education is the key to all knowledge.

Q. We've all met a few ignorant people up North, too, of course. (Audience laughter)

A. Yeah, I know. I know several. (Audience and Dolly laughter)

Q. How did you get into the theme park business with Dollywood, and could you describe a little bit what your future plans for Dollywood are?

A. Well, uh, when I first got in the business, I think that there was a feeling in me that always wanted my people to be proud of me and my family. So I wanted to be able to do something where I could go back home and not only just say, "Here's something I've done. I'm the girl from here that loves this place, that you know, do, that I do have a lot of pride in the area that I'm from." And I thought years and years ago that I wanted to do something like a park. And then I got very lucky and got in business with my partners, the folks from Silver Dollar City, the Hurshlin family, and, of course, this man right here, Ted Miller, is the one who kinda helped me pull all that together. 'Cause they knew I was coming down up to build a park. They already had some things going on there. So we just got together and we put together what I think is one of the greatest partnerships in the world. And it has provided not only fun and recreation in that part of the country, but it's provided thousands and thousands of jobs. And the whole area has really grown in leaps and bounds because of some of the stuff that we started. 'Course, we can't take credit for the Great Smoky Mountains. They were there a long time before me, and that's a great place. But we have provided a lot of new things, a lot of jobs for the folks there. And, we've done so well, and the folks enjoy it, families that come to Dollywood, we hope to do just like what we're doing with the Dixie Stampede dinner theaters. We love the people that we work with there, Fred Hardwick and all the folks with the Dixie Stampede. We also have wonderful partnerships with them. And we just hope to continue to build parks maybe all over the country and possibly all over the world. I'd love to have a Dollywood 1, 2, 3, and 4 (Audience laughter) 5, 6, 7, whatever.

Q. A number of people said, "How do you stay so pretty?"

A. Oh my! (Dolly laughter)

Q. And, and in particular what's your exercise program? (Audience laughter)

A. Well, I'm basically physically lazy. I don't like to exercise. But, you know, I'm one of those people that, you know, if I see something bagging, sagging or dragging I'll go have it fixed. (Audience laughter) Pulled up or pulled out or tucked up or cut off or sucked out, whatever, liposuc. But anyway, I would have. (Dolly laughter) And as far with a lot of it, this lady back there said, "Oh, you just have the most wonderful complexion!" I said, "Thank you. I do milk baths." And I was, I was telling her this story. I said that's when I started, I heard about taking milk baths. The, my milkman, I had left this note out on my back porch and said I wanted 15 gallons of milk. (Audience laughter) And so he thought I made a mistake and thought I meant, like, 1.5 gallons of milk. So he come back later to see if I meant it. I said, "No. I want 15 gallons of milk 'cause I'm gonna take a milk bath." And he said, "Pasturized?" (Audience laughter) I said, "No, just up to my boobs." (Audience laughter and applause)

Q. That was really terrible. (Audience laughter) There goes my closing remarks, uh. You stole 'em.

A. There goes that blushing again! (Audience and Dolly laughter) Well, I have to have fun, too. (Audience laughter)

Q. Back to politics. How would you critique the staged presentations of George Bush and Tennessee's own Al Gore?

A. I'm not gettin' into politics. (Audience laughter and applause)

Q. And you know what, I don't believe they're gettin' into entertainment. (Audience laughter)

A. I don't know about that. (Audience laughter)

Q. What's the harder business to be in, acting or singing?

A. Well, I enjoy the singing the most, but I guess acting is the harder job. It's slow. That's what I don't like about it. 'Cause when you do a movie, you have to wait like three months. It takes three to four months to do a movie. Plus you have to prepare for like a year. And I'm really kinda one of those one-nighter kinda gals. I'd rather just go out there and sing and get it over with. So I like the instant gratification of singing and doing concerts. But the movies, if you do something good, the end results kinda pay off. But I do enjoy the singing the most.

Q. Did you ever have any formal music training? And when you were a kid did you practice? How did you get to be such a musician?

A. Well, I don't know that I'm such a musician. But thank you for that. But I, my family's very musical, my mother's people especially. And I grew up singing in the church, that's my Mama's people. My Grandpaw was a Pentecostal preacher, so that's where I learned to sing. All of us did. And everybody played some sort of a musical instrument, and I can play several different instruments. But, when you're a kid, everybody's playing something, you just walk up to them and say, "Show me that chord, show me this chord." But I never had a lesson in my life. I don't know one note from another. But I make up all my melodies, and I make up the words. But I don't know if it's, when they write it out when I'm having my copyrights done, I couldn't tell you if it's right or not unless somebody sits down and plays it at the piano. I mean, the music. But, uh, so you don't really have to have an education. I wish I did know how to read music. But for me, to start now would be to mess up some other stuff I've got goin'. It's sorta like Chet Atkins said once when they'd asked him to play in with the Boston Pops. They were in Nashville and the orchestra was there and, and they asked Chet. They laid some music out, and he said, they said, "Well, Chet, do you read?" He said, "Not enough to hurt my pickin'" (Audience laughter) So that's sorta like I feel.

Q. What kind of reading do you enjoy?

A. Well, I love everything. I, I read a lot of spiritual books. But I love every great new book that comes out, all the bestsellers. And I've always, you know, loved it. My favorite Southern writer is now, this day and time, is a lady named Leigh Smith. I love all of her things. And she's a lady that lives in North Carolina and she's written some great things. But I just, I read all sorts of things. And I still read the Bible.

Q. Now, somebody says, "I'm sure you can have man after man approach you. So how do you handle temptation?"

A. I don't! (Audience and Dolly laughter)

Q. Please, elaborate. (Audience laughter)

A. I better not elaborate.

Q. Well, it says, "You're known as a role model. How did that happen? Are you religious?"

A. Well, I, I'm spiritual. I mean, I don't say that I'm religious at all. And being a role model. I think that I've been around so long. I think that people just know that I look totally artificial but that I'd like to think they know that I'm real. And I, I think that people know that I really care about them, and I really care about myself. I care about my family and about the things that one should care about. But nobody's perfect. Me of all people. But I have a good time and I try to just stand up for the things that I do believe in and be honest and fair about that. And if I meant something to somebody, especially a young person, to be a role model., you know, that's a wonderful compliment. It's a big responsibility but I still figure I'd best just be myself and not try to be anything different than what I am, and then if that's a good example, great.

Q. When you've toured abroad, um, do, do.

A. You mean as a broad or? (Audience laughter)

Q. No, toured overseas. (Audience and Dolly laughter) In foreign countries.

A. OK. (Audience laughter)

Q. Do you find that foreigners appreciate country music and do you find that they understand what's going on in the United States?

A. Well, I really have found through the years, and I've traveled all over the world, but there's, there are so many people that love country music, that it's amazing to me. And even like when we go to Japan, it's like I'm, I'm very popular in Japan, believe it or not, and they don't know a word I'm saying. I think it's 'cause I'm little and I'm short and I think, you know, whatever they seem to like little blonds with big, um, big'uns. (Audience laughter) And, but they just, you know, they just seem to. I think there's something about country music that you feel. I know, certainly, like Australia, like in places where you actually can understand it, like in Ireland and in England and Australia, that's what I talk about having great fans in Australia. They appreciate it. But I think people feel the emotion that comes, that's sung in country music. And I think emotion doesn't have a language. It just kinda speaks itself. It has its own language. And I think people mostly just love it 'cause they feel that it's something real and, and touches them somewhere in the deep parts.

Q. Now, do you take much influence from foreign music into your own music?

A. Well, I most definitely have been influenced, and I think what we call country music, so much of that actually was born from the old songs that were brought over from the old country, and like in the Appalachian Mountains, of course, with the Irish and English folk songs. And most of the songs that I was talking about that I plan to do on a folk album came from the old world. So I think that that influenced all of country music. So I think it's just people, real people, singing about, telling about, writing about real things. I think it's like simple, ordinary stories told in an extraordinary way, I'd like to think.

Q. You mentioned an interest in cutting a folk album. Can you tell us a little about who your folk music heroes are?

A. You're not reading off your papers. (Audience laughter) Are you? Is that what is says? Actually, I, the people who have influenced me the most have been people like in my family and the people that I've worked with in doing the research with a lot of this old music. Of course, I love all sort of music, and I have a lot of country music favorites, but most of the folks that I have been most touched by have been people who have come from my part of the country, just some of the older folks that, that sit back there on their porches and sing and play their dulcimers and their banjos, a lot of them bein' a lot of my own relatives. And, of course, you try to find all the old folk things that you can as you travel around and try to pick up tapes and, you know, cassettes and just kinda study on that. It's kinda like a, like a history lesson to learn all about that in different parts of the country to search out what the music is there in their area.

Q. They won't let me go without asking you, can you just sing a little more for us?

A. Well, uh, what would I sing. "I Will Always Love You" I guess?

Q. Yeah.

A. Is that your last question?

Q. No, the last one is, is still to come.

A. Oh, it is?

Q. That's sing us another one. (Audience laughter)

A. Now, I can't s. Well. (Singing) If I. (Speaking) Now, this is not Whitney Houston's version. This is the way I originally wrote it. (Singing) If I should stay, I would only be in your way. So I'll go, but I know I'll think of you each step of the way. And I will always love you. I will always love you. (Speaking) I think it's only fair if you folks just help me sing a chorus of that. (Singing) And I will always love you. (Host joins in, audience laughter) I will always. (Speaking) Oh, he is singing good there. He has one of those BIG voices. (Audience laughter) I mean, I feel naked up here without my guitar! (Audience laughter)

Q. Well, before I do ask the last question, we just want to give you a little certificate of our appreciation for the work that you're doing and for your presence here with us today. And you can add that to all the other certificates you've collected over the years.

A. Aw. Thank you very much. Look how pretty that'll frame. (Audience applause) Ain't that nice! I love getting these things!

Q. And a priceless souvenir found in gift shops and antique stores all over Tennessee, the National Press Club mug.

A. Oh, great! And I drink a lot of coffee and a lot of tea, and I'll enjoy this. In fact, I'll leave this on my tour bus which is parked outside.

Q. And the last question I have says, "Well, Here You Come Again in your White Limozeen wearing your Coat of Many Colors and workin' 9 to 5, but you know I Will Always Love You if you promise to be Home for Christmas in Pigeon Forge, Tenn." Is that your plan?

A. Yeah! That's great! Who wrote that? Did you do that?

Q. No. It doesn't have a name.

A. Aw. Well, that's very clever. (Woman raises hand) Oh, you did that, well that's very clever. Thank you. (Audience applause) She managed to get a whole bunch of the titles of songs of mine in there. You know, it's always so nice when people take the time to do little special things like that. And like I say, no matter how full of bull I may be, my heart just loves you. And I am so happy to be standing here gettin' to do things like this in a big ole bunch of important people. And I think, I always think it's a long way from the, you know, to, to the top of the world from the top of the Smoky Mountains. And just thank God for folks like you that've allowed me to see my Smoky Mountain dreams come true. (Audience applause)

Q. Well, I don't think. (Audience applause) Thank you, Dolly. (Audience applause) I don't think the secretary of NATO is going to be able make me blush like you did. But we are just delighted to have had you here today. Ladies and gentleman, we're adjourned, and thank you all for coming. (Audience applause)

A. Thank you. (Audience applause)

Read Dolly's speech to the Press Club here.

Read Dolly's address to the Association of American Publishers here.