She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs

Scribner. Oct. 2020. 208p. ISBN 9781982157289. $22. MUSIC
In early April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic gained steam, country singer Dolly Parton donated one million dollars to Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) to support coronavirus research. It wasn’t her first gift to VUMC, and it was far from the first time she’d donated funds to a cause she deemed important. Yet a moderately viral Tweet declared, “It sounds like a gag.” As Smarsh (Heartland) makes clear, such reactions to Parton’s generosity aren’t uncommon—as are similar responses to her music, her brand, and, in particular, her physical appearance. Despite that, Parton’s decades-long career boasts an impressive talent, a strategic business acumen, and a large and diverse fan base, many of whom would otherwise claim to dislike country music. That kind of popularity is rare, especially for a musical genre frequently treated with derision. Part memoir, part tribute, the book is less about Parton’s music than her identity and how she has embraced and uplifted it to the inspiration of many. Smarsh’s insightful reflections on her experiences growing up in poverty on a Kansas farm are a springboard to discuss feminism, gender, sexuality, class, and race from an angle that is often ignored.
VERDICT A thoughtful musing on the significance of Parton’s work and success, and those she inspires.
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