From singing barefoot on the front porch of her Tennessee mountain home to cracking jokes onstage beside a billionaire who had a nine-digit sum for her, Dolly Parton has always followed her heart.
And the Queen of Country has followed her heart to become many things - a top contributor to the American songbook, a brilliant vocalist, an Island in the Stream - but above all, she’s a giver.
As of Saturday, she can give even more. Parton received the Courage and Civility Award, which comes with $100 million, from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his longtime partner, Lauren Sanchez.
She can gift the money to any philanthropic organisation of her choosing. That could buy coats of many, MANY colors.
“Wow! Did you say $100 million?!” Parton said while receiving the award.
This is the second year Bezos has handed out the award. Last year, he gave chef and disaster relief specialist Jos Andrs and CNN commentator and activist Van Jones $100 million each. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
“When people are in a position to help, you should help,” Parton said in a video Bezos tweeted Saturday. “I try to put my money where my heart is.”
Parton hasn’t said what she will do with the money, but she has several long-standing philanthropic projects. She has helped destigmatize HIV/AIDS, the Los Angeles Times reported. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave her a Partnership Award for her bald eagle conservation efforts. She worked with PETA to stop dog owners from chaining up their pets and leaving them outside.
She certainly works more than her echoic tune “9 to 5” suggests.
Her best-known program is the Imagination Library, which has gifted nearly 200 million books to children since 1995. The program’s umbrella organization is the Dollywood Foundation.
The Dollywood Foundation in 2019 spent $22.2 million out of its $35 million budget on books for the Imagination Library, according to its 990 form.
Parton also received a 2022 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy for addressing poverty and “strengthening early-childhood education through the distribution of free books worldwide.”
Her dedication to education stretches beyond children. The parent company of her Dollywood amusement park announced this year that Dollywood will pay 100 percent of costs for tuition, fees and books of employees who pursue higher education.
Despite the fame and success, Parton is never far from her roots. No more than two doors down, you could say.
When wildfires threatened her native Sevier County, Tenn., in 2016 she pledged financial support for those who lost their homes. Parton also revealed last year that she invested the royalties from Whitney Houston’s cover of Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” - recorded for the 1992 film “The Bodyguard” - into a historically Black neighborhood in Nashville called Sevier Park.
She also donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University for coronavirus research, partially funding biotechnology firm Moderna’s vaccine.
And - here she comes again - then there’s the tunes.
Parton has recorded music for 50 years and has created about twice as many albums, according to her website. (You know you’ve recorded a lot when the list on your website has an Excel-like sort function.)
Her musical influence is undeniable. The Library of Congress awarded Parton its Living Legend medal nearly two decades ago.
She was offered a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 2022 induction class, and, in what is ironically one of the most rock-and-roll things someone can do, she declined the offer. She said that she wasn’t worthy and that this inspired her to put out a rock album. The Hall of Fame rejected her rejection, and she was inducted this month.
Parton has only gotten more popular over the years - as shown by her 5.5 million followers on Twitter. Although it pays people to take its surveys, YouGov found that Parton drew the most positive opinions of any music artist.
She’s well liked because she’s good, and she just got $100 million for charity because she’s been philanthropic her entire professional career.
It’s safe to say: From young people whose lives have been improved by the Dollywood Foundation to old fans, America will always love you, Dolly.