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CONNECT THE WORLD

Interview with Dolly Parton

Aired February 24, 2010 - 16:49:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For almost half a century, country music legend Dolly Parton has been writing and performing hit songs.

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FOSTER: With 25 number one singles in a record 41 top 10 country albums, she's the only artist to score a number one country single in eight of the past four decades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean she's just truly one of the top five in the music business, I think, of all genres.

FOSTER: She's known as much for her voluptuous, glamorous and unmistakably ostentatious image as she is for her music.

DOLLY PARTON, MUSICIAN: And I am Dolly Parton. And I -- I wanted to be a star.

I think I'm going to be a big star.

Do you want to make some money?

I'm thinking that I'm a star, because I know how to be one.

I'm in the Dolly Parton business and I feel like I know how to -- to run that very well.

And I'm a very professional me. I can't tell you how to be or tell someone else how to be, but I know how I'm supposed to be.

FOSTER: Growing up in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains, she used singing as an escape from poverty.

PARTON: I'm just a country girl walking in the moon in high heels. Ha-ha.

FOSTER: Promoting her new album, "Live from London," recorded last year in front of an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 18,000 fans, Dolly Parton is our Connector of the Day.

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FOSTER: Now, with a Connector of the Day special in the cards for next week, we're taking this opportunity to bring you an encore presentation of one of our most popular Connector of the Day segments and that was my interview with country music legend, Dolly Parton.

I started by asking her about her recent performances here in London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PARTON: Well, we're very happy about how this all came about. We had a wonderful time when we were in London at the O2 Arena, as you know. And we -- the crowds were just so, so wonderful both days that we were there. And so we put this all together just to show them how great they looked and hopefully for everybody all over the whole world to get to enjoy them as well as, hopefully, me.

And we -- actually, we had to edit it down, of course, to make it make some sense. So we have -- we have all the big hits that people want and would be certainly want to be hearing. And then we have some original stuff, as you know, that we did there. And then we've got a lot of interviews that we talk a lot backstage and we filmed the rehearsals, as well and our leaving and our coming and our motorcades going back and forth.

So -- and we showed you the wonderful city of London, too. So it's really a spectacular thing. We're very proud of it.

FOSTER: You seem to transcend boundaries within music, because a lot of people are your fans, but they're not fans of country music more broadly.

Does that always surprise you, what sort of reaction you get abroad?

PARTON: Well, I'm very happy about that. I've been around a long time. And I think one of the reasons I'm known so much around the world is because I've also had the good fortune of getting to do some movies that have been pretty big there. So in a lot of areas where they wouldn't know me so much for my music, they have seen me on the movie "9 To 5" or "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and some of those shows that did well.

So I don't care why they like me, as long as they do. I'm just happy to -- to be there. But they've always been very loyal, especially in England. They have always been very supportive of my music, which that's always made me feel very good.

FOSTER: Well, we've had questions coming in from all over the world. And, actually, our first one is from Vicky (ph), who's in Tennessee. And she's written in to say: "Country music has seen a big change, as in it's gone into the -- the mainstream popular music market." She says she misses the grassroots of country music. She asks you: "Does it still exist?"

PARTON: I truly in my heart believe there will always be enough people that love that music that will study it and that will do it. So I don't think it will ever be gone. But, of course, like everything else, every generation has its own sound, its own music. And country music is -- you know, has grown and I've seen major changes myself from when I started.

But I just love still being able to be part of it. But I think we'll always have our traditional country, just like the traditional albums that I did a few years back. You know, I did three albums that really had a lot of the mountain music, some bluegrass, the -- the old flavors that we all love and that I grew up singing and loved the most, really.

FOSTER: A more personal question from Marilyn Skalar (ph). She asks: "Would you describe yourself as a feminist?"

PARTON: Oh, I'm a -- I'm a female and I believe that everybody should definitely have their rights. I don't care if you're black, white, straight, gay, women, men, whatever. I think everybody that has something to offer should be allowed to give it and be paid for it.

But, no, I don't consider myself a feminist, not in the term that some people do, because I -- I just think we all should be treated with respect.

FOSTER: All right, Kevin -- Kevin's question really leads on from that, I guess. He says he's curious about your support for the gay and lesbian community and asks: "Has it come with any negative consequences from the country and western community?"

PARTON: Well, I sometimes get a little flak, because I have a huge gay following. But I've been at this a long time. And I know myself, in the early days, it was hard for people to accept me as I was. I'm a straight person, but I have so many gay and lesbian friends that I work with, people that I'm in business with, some of the finest and greatest people that I know.

So when anybody asks me about it, I just say what I feel. And so I'm sure there are people that have problems with that, but there are -- they're the same people that have problems with a lot of stuff. So I certainly don't try to hide the fact that, you know, that I'm very supportive of people for -- for their own identities. And whoever they are, just be that.

FOSTER: And with a lot of fans also comes a lot of look-alikes. And Mark Hill asks: "Does it bother you to have people making money from your looks and your fame, because you've got such a -- a striking look and it's so well known?"

PARTON: Well, I'm easy to look like, so there are lots and lots of Dolly look-alikes. There's a lot of drag queens, too, a lot of those gay guys we were talking about that are much prettier than I'll ever be. But, actually, you know, it doesn't bother me. I'm always flattered by it.

Sometimes -- the only thing that bothers me, on occasion, there are a few Dolly look-alikes that really present themselves as if they are me. And they go out and kind of fool the people, sometimes sign autographs and they don't say it's a Dolly look-alike. So every now and then, you don't know what all else they're doing, so you kind of worry, because you want to be represented well, or at least you want to know what's going on.

But, you know, I know everybody is trying to make a living so I let that go, too. And so unless I hear of some trouble about it, I'll let that go. But in -- otherwise, I'm -- I'm fine with all of that.

FOSTER: OK. And Harmon brings it back to the music. He's commented on your hits like, "I Will Always Love You" and "You Are" and wonders how many weddings your songs were played at as the first dance.

Any idea?

PARTON: Do you know, I don't know. But I will say this. The song "I Will Always Love You," I rewrote it many years ago, because so many people were -- wanted to play it at their weddings. They play it at funerals, too. It's like one of those kind of songs.

So I rewrote it many years ago as a wedding song, just kind of changed the words ever so slightly. And we get so many requests through my publishing company, please send us the sheet music on "I Will Always Love You," the wedding song.

So I have no idea how many times it has played, but I know it's very popular.

FOSTER: And you are, of course, idolized by a lot of younger musicians, as well, because people that really look into your story realize that not only are you a fantastic performer, but you're actually a legendary songwriter. And, as you say, you talked about your acting, as well. A lot of people look to you for inspiration.

What are your thoughts on how hard it is, particularly to get into the U.S. record industry these days, because unless you're a touring artist likely to make lots of money for a handful of record companies, you're not going to do very well, are you?

PARTON: Well, I'll tell you, it is a different world than it was when I came to Nashville. It's -- the whole music industry has totally changed. And I think you really have to have some supporters. You have to have some backers and you have to have people that know how to get it out there. Everything is in the whole digital world now. It's out there in the technical world. So in order to do it, you have to know.

I'm just glad that I had made my -- my living before, you know, the business changed so much.

FOSTER: Dolly Parton speaking to me a couple of weeks ago, actually.

Now, Dolly is just one of the many guests we've had on Connect the World over the past few months. It's been an eclectic bunch, from Nobel Prize winners to pop stars and billionaires.

So which one was your favorite?

We'd like you to help us choose our Connector of the Year.

Already, we've had a huge response, with American soap star, Crystal Chappell actually leading the race so far. To vote for your favorite, go to CNN.com/connect.

END