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Dolly Parton's America

Author: WNYC Studios & OSM Audio

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In this intensely divided moment, one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America’s great icons. Join us for a 9-episode journey into the Dollyverse.

Hosted by Jad Abumrad, creator of Radiolab and More Perfect.

Dolly Parton’s America is co-produced by WNYC Studios, home to great podcasts like Snap Judgement, Death, Sex & Money, and Nancy.
12 Episodes
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In this intensely divided moment, one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America’s great icons.
Sad Ass Songs

Sad Ass Songs

2019-10-1559:15143

We begin with a simple question: How did the queen of the boob joke become a feminist icon? Helen Morales, author of “Pilgrimage to Dollywood,” gave us a stern directive – look at the lyrics! So we dive into Dolly’s discography, starting with the early period of what Dolly calls “sad ass songs” to find remarkably prescient words of female pain, slut-shaming, domestic violence, and women being locked away in asylums by cheating husbands. We explore how Dolly took the centuries-old tradition of the Appalachian “murder ballad”—an oral tradition of men singing songs about brutally killing women—and flipped the script, singing from the woman’s point of view. And as her career progresses, the songs expand beyond the pain to tell tales of leaving abuse behind. How can such pro-woman lyrics come from someone who despises the word feminism? Dolly explains.  
I Will Always Leave You

I Will Always Leave You

2019-10-2255:30193

Porter Wagoner led the most successful country music television show of its time, and in 1967 he needed a new “girl singer.” He turned to a 21 year old songwriter named Dolly Parton, who’d just recorded her first hit “Dumb Blonde.” So began a nearly decade-long partnership that, behind the scenes, was as contentious as it was commercially successful. This episode tells the story of the “Porter years,” the period during which Dolly arguably discovers her power - both as a performer and songwriter - and then makes the difficult (and radical for its time) decision to strike out on her own. Through interviews with Dolly, country music star Marty Stuart, Wagonmaster Buck Trent, and Porter’s daughter Deborah Wagoner, we explore how Dolly handled what’s sometimes called the great “hillbilly divorce” with such characteristic grace. 
Tennessee Mountain Trance

Tennessee Mountain Trance

2019-10-2941:4465

We journey into the Dollyverse dimension: "Tennessee Mountain Home."Like all law abiding Tennesseans, Jad grew up with the song on a loop.  He hadn’t planned to talk with Dolly about it, but much to his surprise, he is drawn into a Tennessee Mountain Trance.  The trance opens a portal to many questions about country music, authenticity, nostalgia and belonging.  And to a place called Dollywood. We visit the replica of Dolly’s childhood cabin and find thousands of other pilgrims similarly entranced.  Along the way, we meet Wandee Pryor, who lived in a Dolly dreamworld as a girl.  And also, halfway around the world, Esther Konkara, the self-proclaimed “Kenyan Dolly Parton,” who sings "Tennessee Mountain Home" as an ode to the hills of Nairobi - hills she has not yet left.  The Tennessee Mountain home begins to seem like part of a Disney fairytale.But then, Jad and Shima get a call from Dolly’s nephew and head of security Bryan Seaver, who makes an irresistible offer. 
Neon Moss

Neon Moss

2019-11-0542:3975

In this episode, we go back up the mountain to visit Dolly’s actual Tennessee mountain home.  But, can you ever go home again?  Dolly tells us stories about her first trips out of the holler, and shares with us where she lives now. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad’s first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration.
Dollitics

Dollitics

2019-11-1245:5081

Dolly Parton and politics have always had an interesting relationship. On the one hand, she wrote 9 to 5, the anthem for working women and the theme song for a movie inspired by a new labor union. On the other hand, she refuses to answer questions about President Trump, or any question on politics period. Her nephew calls this “Dollitics”: Dolly doesn’t take a position because she knows half her fans are on the right, half are on the left. In this moment in history, how should we think of this kind of fiercely apolitical stance?  Is it desirable, or even possible?
One of Dolly’s most iconic and successful songs is “Jolene,” a song that, at first listen, is about a romantic rival trying to steal her man: a prime example of the classic “cheating song.”  But some see it as flipping a popular country music trope on its head. This idea takes shape when Nadine Hubbs, a professor at the University of Michigan, writes a fourth verse to “Jolene," which makes us reimagine Dolly's songs in entirely new ways. 
Music performed by:  Justin Hiltner (@hiltnerj, http://justinhiltner.com) Esther Konkara (@esther_konkara) Steph Jenkins (@slhjenkins, http://www.stephaniejenkins.info) Stephanie Coleman (@stephiecoleman) Courtney Hartman (@courthartman, https://www.courtneyhartman.com) Shelley Washington (@shelleyplaysaxy, http://shelleywashington.com) Bora Yoon (@borabot, http://borayoon.com) Caroline Shaw (@caroshawmusic, https://carolineshaw.com) Recordings from National Sawdust were part of the NationalSawdust+ series: Elena Park is the curator of NationalSawdust+ Special thanks to recording engineer Garth MacAleavey, Jeff Tang, Charles Hagaman, and everyone at National Sawdust.  Thanks also to Alex Overington and Jeremy Bloom for mix engineering.
Dolly Parton's America

Dolly Parton's America

2019-12-0342:3765

At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, we drop in on a history class called “Dolly Parton’s America.” (We borrowed the name for our series!) Taught by Dr. Lynn Sacco, the class is filled with college students who grew up in rural Appalachia, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.  Dr Sacco gives the class an assignment: Write an essay that answers the question “What is Dolly Parton’s America?” Lurking just behind that question are thornier ones about Southern shame and identity and hillbillies and football and...well, Dolly.  Is Dolly helping or hurting us? The class splits down the middle.    Editor’s Note:  We made two corrections to this podcast, originally released on December 3.  In referring to the location of the Battle of Blair Mountain, we changed “Southwestern Virginia” to “West Virginia.” And on the origin of the term redneck, we inserted narration that makes clear that the etymology of the term goes back farther than the Battle of Blair Mountain.  
Dixie Disappearance

Dixie Disappearance

2019-12-1740:0841

This episode delves into the controversy surrounding Dolly Parton’s Stampede (formerly known as “Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede”)—a dinner theater that presents the Civil War as a friendly competition between neighbors. In the wake of the Charlottesville Riots in 2017, the Dixie Stampede was called out by the press, and then became embroiled in the larger national conversation about Civil War monuments and the white-washing of history. Dolly’s business conglomerate decided to eliminate “Dixie” from the name, which caused further uproar.  Dolly embodies “a quivering mass of irreconcilable contradictions” in a way very few other American figures do… but has America arrived at a place where such contradictions are no longer defensible or tolerable? 
In this second bonus music episode, we play two live songs we recorded, sung by bluegrass musicians Nora Brown and Amythyst Kiah.  You can find Nora on facebook @norabrownbanjo, instagram @little.nb, and her music at jalopyrecords.org and on Spotify. Amythyst is on facebook, instagram, and twitter at @amythystkiah, and her music can be found at amythystkiah.com.
She's Alive!

She's Alive!

2019-12-3127:3452

As Dolly will tell you, so much of who she is - her creativity, her music, her stance on life - emanates from her faith, but what exactly is that faith? The answer is deeply surprising. In this episode, Dolly tells a story of finding God in an abandoned church filled with X-rated graffiti.  And she speaks of her plans for how she'll be remembered after she’s gone—how her voice will live on for the next 50, 100, 200 years.
Comments (112)

BC

Dolly accepts everyone and everyone is welcome. She points things out that are wrong without condemning anybody, that's why everyone loves her.

Mar 8th
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BC

Those Appalachian mountain songs are so violent.

Mar 7th
Reply

Jonelle Renee

so far there's so many negative comments. I love this podcast

Jan 29th
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MariaElizabeth VestaMar Mendez

all I could say is I wish there was more.

Jan 24th
Reply

Paulette Courtoreille

I wanna listen to those memories

Jan 22nd
Reply

BruhBroHo

more dolly, less everyone else

Jan 21st
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Stefanie Freeders

I'm on episode #3. been up all night dealing with a child with a methamphetamine addiction. Dolly, you made my world right for a little bit today. I prayed for God, whatever. whoever this is, I'm not religious but anyhoo I cried out for help. noone knows what to do. and I come across you and thus podcast. I grew up with your music. you just inspire me to hang on, if its just for an hour, a day, a second at times. it's been so dark for so long but you remind me to look for the light. thank you.

Jan 19th
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GRACE FINNEY

Thank you for giving me pride for my home.

Jan 16th
Reply (1)

Luke Baylie

This show has had me laughing and crying. Nostalgic for places I've never been. thanks

Jan 13th
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daisy

this is such a good podcast and this episode really takes it further

Jan 6th
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deborah cassidy

Dolly talks about the bible like it’s a good book? Has she read it ?? Because that god is a monster!

Dec 31st
Reply (3)

Alegra MBL

I think whether or not you agree with the adoration / love factor (I agree a bit of a stretch), the bigger point to me was that Dolly didn't "hate" on the other woman, as basically every other "other woman" song does.

Dec 29th
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Renee Martyna

Dolly 2020? That would have seemed proposterous to me before listening to this but I have to say, she may just be what America needs right now. I'd consider voting for her... too bad I'm Canadian (which is not a sentence I usually write, believe me). It's just so nice to see someone rising above it all. I'll be waiting for her 'moment' she says is coming with baited breath!

Dec 29th
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IlliniFan

My family passed through Pigeon Forge on our trek across America this Christmas season and noticed the name of the show had changed. This episode couldn't be more timely for us. Thanks for the explanation and continued interesting podcast.

Dec 29th
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LizMF7

This series is legit. My family are originally from a place in Kentucky that no longer exists, Bowlingtown. It's now known as Bighorn Lake. When my grandfather died, we all trekked from our respective most recent outposts in OH, PA, and IN to bury him in the family cemetery, which is on the top of a mountain in KY. The blue smoke is an amazing phenomenon, and the moss is still soft and green. We sang his gospel songs at his graveside, through tears, and climbed back down the mountain to drink, howl our sadness, and sing the mournful, beautiful classics that we all carry in our hearts forever. No matter where you go in the world, the beauty of your home lives with you, and if you're really lucky like Dolly, and know how to sing, you can share it with the world wherever you are. This is a good series, thank you for it.

Dec 23rd
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Jean-Philippe Gagnon

When is the next episode? It's supposed to be a 9 part serie and now it's 8 episodes Plus one "extra" of live music. Can't wait for the last one.

Dec 16th
Reply

Kevin Barry

No podcast this week so far.....withdrawal symptoms setting in..

Dec 15th
Reply

Kayla Reeser

The Barbara Walter's interview in this episode is unintelligible to the ear....and they never address it. anyone else have this issue?

Dec 12th
Reply (1)

Whitney Brooke

the part talking about the history of the old mountain songs...very interesting. didn't know some of these went back as far as 1600s

Dec 10th
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Michelle T

I love this podcast and this might be my favorite episode. I am a proud native Tennessean who was moved north at 14. My mom was always ashamed of her southern roots and although she never said as much out loud, I was definitely "encouraged" towards the Queen's English. Add to that some vicious bullying for being different and I set about losing my accent quick as I could. I'm now sorry that I caved to that pressure, especially with my southern colloquialisms that I picked up from my grandparents. It feels like a rejection of who I am, who they were, and most importantly how hard they worked so that my mom & I could make snooty decisions. Just some food for thought for the students and others with a similar struggle. And one point of constructive criticism for those who are worried about being taken seriously: for the love of Saint Dolly, concentrate on losing the habit to use "like" as every other word. That makes you sound far less articulate than the thickest drawl.

Dec 7th
Reply
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