Dolly Parton on What Makes Her Feel ‘Terribly Insulted’

For as long as Dolly Parton has been in the spotlight, she’s been in on the joke. Through the years, hosts, interviewers, and the like have poked and prodded at her “outrageous” appearance. But Parton has always met them with a bigger, funnier joke at her own expense. It may seem like the Queen of Country is untouchable, that she’s not one to get “terribly insulted.” But there’s something that has always ruffled the “Jolene” singer’s feathers, and that’s people putting down country music.

Dolly Parton performs on stage at The Gift of Music Concert. She's singing into a microphone in an all-purple outfit.
Dolly Parton | Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Dolly Parton once said country music is ‘the greatest music there is’

In an interview Parton did with Playboy Magazine in 1978, she was asked if she gets “insulted” when people put down country music.

“Terribly insulted,” she said, as reported by the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “Saying somethin’ about country music is like saying somethin’ about a brother or sister or my momma and daddy. Because it has made me a livin’, it is somethin’ I love and appreciate. I know what it stands for, I know what it is. It is a music to be respected.”

The “9 to 5” singer went on to speak about what makes country music so special.

“It’s the simplicity of it, it is everyday stories about everyday people,” she said. “It deals with human emotions, human relationships it is love and heartbreak and fun things and honky-tonk . . . the way that the truck drivers and the average middle-class American lives.”

The difference between singing country and singing pop, according to Dolly Parton

At the time of the interview, more people were listening to country music than ever before.

“Then, too, country music through television and radio started getting broader,” said Parton. “When country started gettin’ on TV, people realized that we are not just hillbillies and hicks, toe jam and bare feet—we only go barefooted ’cause we want to, not ’cause we can’t do no better. To me, it’s the greatest music because it does deal with life, with people, and it deals with simple sounds. If it is done right, it is the best music there is.”

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Also at the time of the interview, Parton was beginning to alter her sound. She was incorporating more pop and rock elements into her repertoire. Some people felt she was abandoning her country roots. But Parton never felt that way.

“When I first got the bigger band and started doin’ more rocky things,” she said. “Some people hollered, ‘Do your country, we don’t need your rock ‘n’ roll.’ I don’t do rock ‘n’ roll. I knew what I was tryin’ to do and I didn’t have time to try to explain it to them.”

To her core, the “Rockin’ Years” singer has stayed true to country. She told her interviewer that there is a difference between country singing and pop or rock singing.

“There is a certain quality, a certain purity in country voices,” she said. “They sound plainer, countrier, more blunt. They don’t do a lot of screams and squalls.”

‘I have not changed because of success, and I never will’

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While Parton’s music unquestionably changed in the late ’70s, she assured Playboy Magazine that she herself had not.

“I have not changed because of success, and I never will,” she said. “The only thing success does to you, like Barbra Streisand said in her Playboy interview, it just don’t allow you to be alone anymore. Everybody is tryin’ to get to you. It just gets to the point where people demand so much from you you just can’t give it and you have to take all kinds of hurts and insults. It bothers you. Of all things, for somebody to say that I’ve changed, that just burns me up.”