Happy Birthday, Dolly Parton! Why Katie Loves the Queen of Country

dolly parton and katie couric

Revisit Katie’s interview with Dolly!

January 19th should be a national holiday because it’s Dolly Parton’s birthday!

I’m obsessed with Dolly. I remember as a kid watching her on The Porter Wagoner Show. She looked like my Barbie Doll, but shorter, and sang like an angel. I became a lifelong member of #TeamDolly, and loved everything she sang, from “Jolene” to “Two Doors Down” to “Here You Come Again.” I even loved “Islands in the Stream,” her duet with Kenny Rogers. (Rogers’ “Through the Years” still makes me weepy, but that’s for another time.) Meanwhile, my respect for Dolly grew even deeper when I realized Whitney Houston’s HUGE hit, “I Will Always Love You,” was written and recorded by Dolly first! 

I’ll never forget the morning I met Dolly, back in the 90s. Before I was scheduled to interview her,  I went to the Green Room at the Today Show to say hi, something I tried to do during commercial breaks. Ellie, then a toddler, was visiting me that day so I brought her with me to check out the bagel selection. Imagine my horror when she went straight for Dolly’s breasts. “She thinks she’s getting breakfast!” Dolly joked.

Later, I became obsessed with the group Dolly, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt formed. (There’s a great documentary on YouTube I recently watched about these three incredible women.) They recorded two albums together called Trio and if I’m in a meditative mood, the music absolutely transports me. The harmony on “After the Gold Rush” is gorgeous and mesmerizing.

Dolly hasn’t slowed down at 77. In fact, I think the last few years might represent her finest hours. Like many people, the pandemic seemed to bring out the best in Dolly.  Did you know she donated $1 million to COVID-19 research at Vanderbilt University, which helped fund the Moderna vaccine? And when she wasn’t giving a financial boost to the COVID vaccine, she was reading bedtime stories to children virtually with a 10-week YouTube series called “Goodnight With Dolly.” She founded the Dollywood Foundation in 1988 to help kids achieve educational success, and it’s still going strong — in 2018, her Imagination Library donated its millionth book to children in need. Just before that, Dolly donated $1 million to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in honor of her niece, who was treated for leukemia there. (Dolly also helped open the Hannah Dennison Butterfly Garden at the hospital.) In 2017, she also donated funds to those affected by wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains region of her native Tennessee. And that’s just the tip of Dolly’s philanthropic iceberg! 

I got a chance to travel to Nashville to interview Dolly when I worked at Yahoo. She was as fun and charming as ever. Behind her quips like, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap” is a very wise woman whose contributions to our world go far beyond her extraordinary musical talent.

So, Happy Birthday, Dolly, and thank you for entertaining and inspiring us for 77 years.

Watch Katie’s 2016 interview with Dolly — starting with these clips from their conversation.