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9 Quick Questions for Dolly Parton

National icon is busy in the studio, on stage and serving up sweets

spinner image dolly parton smiling big against blue background
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

National treasure Dolly Parton, 77, has gained generations of fans with her hit songs, big hair, sunny disposition and quotable quips. And you can soon get a taste of some of her favorite family recipes with Duncan Hines’ limited edition mixes. Available in March, the line includes buttermilk biscuits, sweet cornbread and two flavors of brownies.  

Test your Dolly Parton knowledge with our quiz.

There’s a sweet story about your father paying the doctor who delivered you with a sack of cornmeal. Have you come full circle thanks to your new line of Duncan Hines baking mixes?

That’s the truth. We used to grow our own corn, and Daddy would take it to the mill to grind. When the country doctor came to deliver me at our house, Daddy paid for me with a sack of cornmeal. I make the joke that I've been raking in the dough ever since. You’re right: Now I’ve got the sweet cornbread mix with Duncan Hines.

It’s hard to imagine you having time to bake or cook. Do you have any culinary specialties?

No, I just love all the Southern cooking like we grew up with, like the banana puddings and the meat loafs and the pork or beef roast. I love cooking. Usually I don’t have time to cook from scratch anymore, so these mixes with Duncan Hines are always great. They’re foolproof. Then you can add your little extra stuff as you go.

spinner image dolly parton wearing apron in kitchen with her dolly baking supplies and baked goods on table in front of her
Parton's baking collection features sweet cornbread, buttermilk biscuits and two brownie flavors — fabulously fudgy and caramel turtle.
JB Rowland/Courtesy Dolly Parton

You’re releasing a rock album this year. Who are your favorite rock songs or artists?

I’ve always loved a lot of the great rock ’n’ roll songs and the great, iconic artists. Paul McCartney joined me on his song “Let It Be,” and Ringo Starr is playing on it as well. Elton John is playing on the song I recorded of “Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” I've got P!nk and Brandi Carlile singing on Mick Jagger’s song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” I’m trying to still get Mick Jagger, we’re trying to figure out a song. … We’ve got John Fogerty, Steven Tyler. And Steve Perry — I did the song — which I’ve always loved and my husband always wanted to hear me sing with Kenny Rogers, “Open Arms.” [The album will have] a lot of great songs and a lot of great artists and some original songs of mine.

Is writing rock different from country? Do you approach the process differently?

Well, they’re still songs, and you’ve got to find your subjects. Kent Wells, who’s the producer of the album, has been my guitar player and band director for 30 years or so. He produced the album, and he is a rock ’n’ roller. If I’m writing them by myself or with him, he knows how to get that rock feel, the phrasing. It’s kind of a different world, but I’ve enjoyed spreading my wings and doing something a little different, knowing that I can do it.

You’ve said that you write song ideas out on napkins or whatever’s handy when you’re inspired, and then record them on a cassette tape — and that’s how we have hits like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You.” Has your process changed these days?

I am not a high-tech person, and one of the reasons is I don’t want to change anything about the way I create things. I still love to write longhand. I keep my big yellow legal pads there to write my songs with my Sharpies. I still put them on a cassette player, then take them to the office and have them transferred over to a CD. My group, they're all high-tech. But to me, I don’t get into all that. I mean, it would’ve changed everything about me to try to do that process differently. I’m still an old-timer in many ways, but by choice.

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If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you would’ve done professionally?

I’ve thought about that a lot. In my early days, I thought that I would be a missionary if I didn’t make it or that I would be a beautician. I would’ve wanted to get free makeup, bleach and all that, or at least get a discount. When I did Steel Magnolias, playing Truvy in the beauty shop was so natural for me because I always did my mom’s hair, my sister’s hair. I always had my own hair teased up, since I was 15 years old. 

In honor of your birthday [Jan. 19], what is the best gift that you’ve ever received?

Life, I guess. So I can thank Mama and Daddy for that. I’m just so happy that I was born, so I could experience all these amazing things that I have in my life. So I would think that the gift of life is the best birthday present I ever had.

What’s your favorite birthday memory?

They’re all kind of special in their own way. The only time I was ever truly, truly surprised was when I was 39. My manager, Sandy Gallin, was in Los Angeles. They faked a whole big thing that I was going out to dinner with Carole Sager and a bunch of the celebrities. We were going to meet and go to someone’s house for a drink after. [Sandy] was wearing a light-colored suit, and he faked some wine spilling, so we’d have to go back to his house to change. When we got back to his house, the whole world of Hollywood was there. That one stands out only because that’s the first time anybody’s ever been able to surprise me.

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It’s hard to pull one over on you, isn’t it?

It is. I threaten everybody around me to tell me if there’s going to be a surprise. I’ll act like I’m surprised, but I want to know it. But that one truly got me, and it was a fun time.

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