Dolly Parton talks fans, being a role model as she announces major North American tour

Country singer Dolly Parton announced she will embark on a major North American tour in 2016 — her first in 25 years. She talked to CBC News about why she stayed away from the spotlight and about being a role model to younger women in the music industry.

Country icon plans to play major Canadian cities during 60-stop tour

Dolly Parton talks about her new North American tour 1:19

Announcing her first major North American tour in 25 years, Dolly Parton has romance on her mind.

"It's like a love affair of a sort. You know how you get rejuvenated when you're first in love?," says the country icon. "That's the kind of relationship I have with my fans."

But Parton has at times worried that love was no longer requited. For the past two decades, she has performed in Europe and Australia, but refrained from planning a major North American tour because she worried the fan enthusiasm for her music just wasn't there anymore.

"I didn't think anybody was interested to see me since I haven't had any real hit records or anything here in the States," Parton says modestly, speaking on the phone from her home in Nashville.

I didn't think anybody was interested to see me since I haven't had any hit records or anything. - Dolly Parton , on why she hadn't done a major North American tour in 25 years

The last few years have proven her wrong. Last summer, she played a few select U.S. dates, including Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, to sold-out crowds and rave reviews. In 2014, she sparked headlines when, at 68, she overshadowed younger acts and became a fan favourite at Britain's influential Glastonbury Festival.

"We got so many people saying, 'Why don't you do another tour?,'" says Parton. "And I was really happy to hear that people did still want to see me, here in the United States and in Canada."

Famous fans

One thing that could have hinted at the hunger for Parton's music is still the open adulation of younger singers. With her trademark big hair, bejewelled clothing and earnest songs, she was not seen as cool, or perhaps relevant, by many in the indie-rock movement of the 1990s and early 2000s.

But the pop and country explosion of the last few years changed that. Chart queens Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood have both been effusive in their praise of Parton. And Miley Cyrus is Parton's goddaughter. More than admiring her for attempting country/pop crossover before it was a mainstream move, these singers seem to see her as a feminist icon of sorts.
Dolly Parton performs at Glastonbury Festival in June 2014. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters )

"Hopefully they're responding to my music, but also to just being a girl in the business that's really had to make decisions, tough ones and hopefully right ones. The fact that I've just kind of hung in there, I think they really respect that," says Parton, adding she's a huge fan of these singers herself.

Parsed-down Dolly

But few among Parton's young disciples could hope for her impressive catalogue: she's credited with writing more than 3,000 songs, for herself and others, including I Will Always Love You, made more famous by Whitney Houston in 1992.

Fans will be able to hear some of Parton's biggest hits in their original format, as well as parsed-down acoustic versions, on an upcoming two-disc album, released to coincide with the tour.

"I really scaled down my show quite a bit, where it's simpler and I tell more stories and the music is a little softer," she says.

And those stories will likely include Parton's signature sense of humour — a little bawdy, a little self-deprecating.

"Pure & Simple: Dolly's Biggest Hits," she says, referring to the new album's title. Then anticipating a joke at what that title may sound like, she interjects with her Tinker Bell laugh: "I said HITS!"

Parton says the Canadian leg of the show will include most major cities. The exact dates will be announced later this spring.

About the Author

Deana Sumanac-Johnson


Deana Sumanac-Johnson is a national CBC News reporter for the entertainment unit. She appears regularly on The National and CBC News radio programs, specializing in stories on music and literature/publishing. Before joining the arts unit, she was an award-winning current affairs producer for CBC News: Sunday.