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For Love of Country

America’s beloved stars honor all that unites our nation

spinner image coutry music stars collage featuring dolly parton willie nelson loretta lynn and many others
Front: Dolly Parton - Art Streiber/Trunk Archive. Behind her: Vince Gill - Jim Wright; Wynonna Judd: Courtesy Wynonna Inc.; Willie Nelson - Gary Miller/Getty Images; Loretta Lynn - Brent Humphreys. Middle left: Clint Black – Everett Collection/Newscom; Kane Brown – Jason Kempin/Getty Images for ACM. Back row: Rodney Crowell - Jason Kempin/Getty Images; Shania Twain - Jim Wright; Martina McBride - AP zz/Quasar/STAR MAX; Lee Greenwood - Dara-Michelle Farr/AdMedia via ZUMA Wire; Lee AnnWomack - Ed Rode/WireImage/Getty Images; Ronnie Dunn - Jim Arndt; Zac Brown - Danny Clinch

We Are Blessed

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By Dolly Parton

What makes me proud about this country? People. In my mind, that’s all any country really is. We are all in this together — trying, searching for that thing that we like to call the American dream. Sure, we can speak our minds, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get persecuted for it, or that we don’t need to watch our mouths. But we do have freedom of speech. We’re able to be free, to walk free and to be who we are. That’s America. We should all be proud of that.

Who am l? Well, I’m a storyteller, and I do it through music. Some of my favorite songs were written about my childhood, growing up here in the Smoky Mountains — like “Appalachian Memories” and “My Tennessee Mountain Home.” These stories talk about the lifestyle and the people I grew up with. Music lets us do that. It’s pure and it’s simple. It’s how real people tell ordinary stories. It gives us a voice.

In my 1971 song “Coat of Many Colors,” I tell the story of how my mama made me a coat out of rags. It’s about a little girl living in the rural United States, where people grew up poor and worked hard for a living, but it could’ve taken place anywhere. People are people.

But really, “Coat of Many Colors” is more than just a song to me. I wrote it from a special place in my heart about my mama. It turns out to also be a song about bullying — about not picking on other kids. It’s about love and family and believing. It struck a chord with a lot of people, so they’ve made a schoolbook out of it. I’m proud of that; I know my mama would be, too.

My daddy couldn’t read or write, and I know it bothered him. To honor him, I started the Imagination Library. I wanted to do my part to help kids fall in love with reading. I am as proud of that program as anything I have done. We’ve given away almost 200 million books, and it’s still growing. It is all over the U.S. and in many parts of the world. I truly believe that you can’t get enough books into the hands of children.

As a whole, I go where my heart leads me. I pray every day that God will guide me, and I honestly believe he does. I’m trying my best to lift people up and do my part to make the world a better place. I’ve been so blessed with great opportunities, and I feel if you’re lucky enough to get in a position to help, you should. People helping people, because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s my America. My hope is that it’s your America, too. —As told to Meg Grant

spinner image country music singer loretta lynn
Brent Humphreys

We Can Speak Our Truth

By Loretta Lynn

Freedom for me was what I learned comin’ up from the holler, though I might not have known it as a young girl. It was freedom to do as you wanted, love as you wanted and say what you wanted, even though some people might not like it.

Record producer Owen Bradley allowed me to write and sing as I believed. Yes, some radio stations were not playing those songs at first — like “Wings Upon Your Horns” and “Rated X” — but they became hits anyway. I never intended to be some woman activist, but I guess a lot of people related to it. So that freedom for me was freedom for a few others. —As told to Alanna Nash

Loretta Lynn, 90, grew up in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, and became the first woman in country music to receive a certified gold album.

spinner image singer willie nelson on stage in front of a giant american flag
Rick Kern/Getty Images

We Rise Together

By Willie Nelson

America, I was born during your Great Depression of the 1930s, so I had some early experience with hard times. My sister, Bobbie, and I were raised by our grandparents. For Thanksgiving one year, we split a can of soup! Now, hard times have come again once more. We are trying to hold on to each other and to your great American dream for every person. We’re trying to find what unites us — to remember our shared beliefs in family, in love and in your democratic ideals, so we can come through as a stronger America. If we don’t find what unites us, we will again be a house divided. We tried that in the 1860s, and 600,000 Americans died fighting each other. That should be our reminder that we need to get our s--- together and remember the ways we are alike rather than focusing on the ways we’re different. —Excerpted from Willie Nelson’s Letters to America. Copyright 2021, Harper Horizon. Reprinted by permission.

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Jim Wright

We Look Out for Strangers

By Shania Twain

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I left Canada really with nothing, and came to the U.S. looking for a future. I had no parents after they died in a car accident. Luckily, I was embraced by mentors who would invite me to their house on weekends to be with their family. We’d play guitar and sing. They cooked Southern food. I was welcomed on a personal level, which gave me a good impression of America. —A.N.

As Shania Twain, 56, plans a new album, her Las Vegas residency runs through Sept. 10.

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Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Our Founders Were Brilliant

By Clint Black

It all really stems from the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the idea that this was a new thing in the world. They called it an experiment, but it was a lot of brilliant people who had seen how things had gone wrong elsewhere. They created this thing that could be self-correcting. They put in mechanisms to keep it from going too far astray.

You as an individual, for the first time in history, have a chance to make positive changes to the country you were born in. That’s a big reason for me to be glad to be born in the U.S. —A.N.

Clint Black, 60, resumes his “Mostly Hits & the Mrs.” tour this fall, with wife Lisa Hartman Black. He hosts Talking in Circles With Clint Black on the Circle network.

spinner image country music star wynonna judd
Wynonna Inc.

We Have Choices

By Wynonna Judd

I was doing a show and getting ready to sing one of my hits. A man gave me flowers. He was from somewhere like Iran, and he said, “We were not allowed to listen to music on the radio.” I said, “What do you mean?” I had no idea where to go with that kind of comment. This guy blew the doors off when he said that. I looked at him and said, “Oh, my God, tell me more.” He said, “You don’t know what it’s like to not be able to listen to music.”

I don’t. To be an American means I will never have to think about what it’s like not to have choices. I think the song I was about to sing was “She Is His Only Need,” ironically. —A.N.

Wynonna Judd, 58, was a 2021 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame with her late mother, Naomi, as the Judds.

spinner image martina mc bride performs onstage
Lora Olive/ZUMA Press Wire/Alamy

We Inspire Others

By Martina McBride

I got tons of mail about my song “Independence Day,” people telling me how it gave them the courage to leave a bad relationship. They felt like someone understood what they were going through, or they understood that it wasn’t their fault. This song took on a life of its own.

“Independence Day” peaked at number 10, which also taught me that songs are sometimes bigger than a chart number. —A.N.

Martina McBride, 55, has had five number 1 country singles.

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Getty Images

We Honor Our Protectors

By Barbara Mandrell

I appreciate when someone says to one of our veterans, “Thank you for your service.” These people give everything and live to defend and protect our nation. And their families have to sacrifice just as much. Our first Christmas as man and wife, Ken was overseas. If you’re the children or the spouse of someone serving, you’re all serving. I can’t think of any folks who are greater than those Americans who serve us. —A.N.

Barbara Mandrell, 73, performed regularly for U.S. troops. Husband Ken Dudney was a Navy pilot.

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Imagespace/Alamy Live News

Immigrants Shaped Our Culture

By Lee Ann Womack

In the small town where I grew up, there are dance halls that were built mostly by German or Czech immigrants. They were community centers, a gathering place. People would go there for meetings, like fraternal organizations, then hear music on Saturday night and go to church there on Sunday morning.

If you moved to this vast, open place called Texas from Germany or Central Europe, you needed a place to feel like you belonged, a place to gather, bring food and music from home — a sense of community. And this is where a lot of these German polka beats you came to hear in early Texas country music — and blues and Tejano music — came together. —A.N.

Lee Ann Womack, 55, is from Jacksonville, Texas. Over a 25-year career in music, she has won six Country Music Association Awards.

spinner image ronnie dunn lead singer of the duo brooks and dunn
Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn (right)
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

A Vow for Democracy

By Ronnie Dunn

Our democracy is not something that just shows up; it’s something you have to work at, like a marriage. You don’t just say, “I do.” We’re still growing. —A.N.

Ronnie Dunn, 69, is the lead singer of the duo Brooks & Dunn.

spinner image country singers vince gill left and amy grant right
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Americans Are Givers

By Amy Grant and Vince Gill

Amy: I have a friend who lives a simple life. She worked at a dress store. Every year she would give to my charity her bonus check of $10,000 and say, “I feel like you’re more in touch with the needs of everyday people.” One year a friend called from the emergency room. A little girl didn’t have a coat. That’s just one small example of where some of her money went. My friend loved the experience of helping people. She said, “This is so much fun!” When you decide to give, you look at the world differently.

Vince: We get to feel better about ourselves through philanthropy. That is, to some degree, the point of all of this. We live in a world where it’s easy to beat yourself up, but it feels better when you chip in. Like Christmas. When you’re giving gifts to your family, you want yours to be the one that they like the best. —A.N.

Amy Grant, 61, and husband Vince Gill, 65, are active philanthropists in Nashville. She oversees the Helping Hands Foundation, and for 27 years, he sponsored the Vinny Pro-Celebrity Golf Invitational.

spinner image country music singer rodney crowell
Mark Humphrey/AP

Dreaming Is Encouraged

By Rodney Crowell

I guess for some folks, the American dream is becoming rich and famous. For me, it was finding something I loved and could make a living from at the same time. Then, when I witnessed the screaming at four Brits on The Ed Sullivan Show, it registered with me that playing guitar and singing in a band was how you got a girl.

My first teen rock ’n’ roll band wasn’t very good. Nor was its name, the Rolling Tones. Nearly three decades later, I met Claudia, who became my wife, on the set of a video for my song “Lovin’ All Night.” So I thank the Rolling Tones; because of that band, I chased my dream.

Rodney Crowell, 71, released the album Triage in 2021.

spinner image kane brown performs onstage
ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

We Have Pride in Community

By Kane Brown

I’ve gotten to tour all over the U.S. and internationally. There are so many communities across the U.S. that, while people might not have the town name memorized on a map, have been some of my favorite places to visit. They have a pride of home and sense of community and helping and looking out for each other.

I have a song called “Famous Friends” with Chris Young that talks about this. All these people you grow up with that are staples in your life — and famous to you day to day. I thought about this a lot this year with all of the local heroes and frontline workers who went to work every day in their hometowns, too. —A.N.

Kane Brown, 28, was the first artist to top all five of Billboard’s main country charts at the same time.

spinner image zac brown performs at jazzfest in twenty twenty two
Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Real Connections Fuel Us

By Zac Brown

People have become disconnected from nature; an iPad is the standard babysitter for kids. But we’re supposed to be scratched up from briars and getting our knees dirty. At my Camp Southern Ground, we take the devices away. We put people out in nature. There is so much power in putting people in a situation where they have to rely on each other. —A.N.

Zac Brown, 43, helped found a Georgia camp that serves young people and veterans. The Zac Brown Band is currently on tour.

spinner image country music singer joe bonsall of the oak ridge boys
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

We Are Pro-Wholesome

By Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys

The Oak Ridge Boys are very pro-America and pro-God. We don’t sing drinking or cheating songs. We’re not good at it. There are enough people who do those. —As told to Jeffrey Lee Puckett

The Oak Ridge Boys’ latest album is Front Porch Singin’. Bonsall is 74.

spinner image country musician lee greenwood
James D. Smith/AP

We Can Show Our Pride

By Lee Greenwood

In 1983, I finally wrote the song that I wanted to write. I put down my feelings, my emotions, my beliefs — that I understand why America is a free country and how we should appreciate it. From that moment on, “God Bless the U.S.A.” became more than just my original piece of music. World events, international crises, Hurricane Katrina and the attack on America in 2001 have made it something more. Event after event brought “God Bless the U.S.A.” and its refrain, “And I’m proud to be an American / Where at least I know I’m free,” to the forefront and pushed me into a leading role to be America’s patriot. I thought it was important that a farm boy from California could be a patriot. —A.N.

Lee Greenwood, 78, is on his “40 Years of Hits” tour through the fall.

How Loretta Lynn Became the Coal Miner’s Daughter

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