Starting Tuesday, October 15, Jad Abumrad and WNYC Studios, present “Dolly Parton’s America,” a nine-part podcast series that will retrace the steps to Dolly’s near-universal appeal, and turn the mirror around to discover what America’s collective adoration reflects and reveals about us.
Hosted by Nashville native Jad Abumrad, creator of the wildly popular, award-winning WNYC Studios podcast Radiolab, “Dolly Parton’s America” leads us on a journey that starts in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and then heads off to the hills of Nairobi, the mountains of Lebanon, a classroom in East Tennessee, a red carpet premiere in the United Kingdom, and back to Nashville to investigate Jad’s own father’s journey to America. Along the way, the series moves far beyond Dolly’s biography to dig deep into personal, political and philosophical questions about feminism, faith, migration, immigration, workers’ rights, the South, the American Dream, and the universal longing for home.
The series features intimate recollections and insights from a range of people in the “Dollyverse”—starting with Dolly herself. Dolly opens up on her life, her music, her business empire, faith, politics, and the afterlife. The series takes listeners behind the scenes with her at the London premiere of 9 to 5 the Musical and revisits the awkward moment at the 2017 Emmys when Fonda and Lily Tomlin got political, and Dolly deflected with a boob joke. Dolly opens up on why she adamantly refuses to take public stands on political issues, even at a time when everyone is expected to have an opinion and take a side. And in her most personal revelation, Dolly describes the moment she found God in an abandoned church, and the one time she contemplated suicide.
Below is a partial list of interviewees:
- Dolly’s nephew and bodyguard, Bryan Seaver, takes Jad to the beloved Tennessee mountain home so often referenced in her lyrics—but thought by some to be a myth
- Jane Fonda, 9 to 5 costar and longtime friend, gives her take on the 2017 Emmys moment
- Gloria Steinem, finds a kindred spirit in Dolly, and illustrates Dolly’s revolutionary level of control in her decisions, whatever they may be
- Students of the “Dolly Parton’s America” class at UT-Knoxville open up about how Dolly’s vision of the South is both empowering and diminishing to their sense of identity
- Dr. Naji Abumrad, a physician who advised Dolly after her 2014 car accident (and Jad’s father), describes his journey from Lebanon to the United States, and how Nashville became home
- Rhiannon Giddens talks about the migration of instruments over the last several centuries and how country music is the soundtrack of migration
- Charlie Hurst, manager of the Cas Walker grocery store where Dolly first performed, shares his memory of seeing her sing and getting her hair done for the first time at age 13
- Sarah Smarsh, author, scholar, and media commentator on socioeconomic class, politics and rural issues, believes that when it comes to feminism, Dolly’s actions speak much more loudly than words
- Journalist Aisha Harris, whose story for Slate “Springtime for the Confederacy” scrutinized Dolly’s dinner theater and contributed to the controversial removal of the word “Dixie” from its title
- Patricia Resnik, screenwriter of 9 to 5, shares how Dolly’s character in the film was based on a secretary who shared her painful story, and how she herself was ultimately “9 to 5’ed on the set of 9 to 5”
- Cole Tipton, Knoxville-born Young Farmers of America member and a budding drag queen, whose debut performance was a tribute to Dolly