If there was ever a music maker who needs no introduction, it’s Dolly Parton. And she knows it.
“You probably know me from my big hair, my shiny clothes and all that,” she said in the opening minutes of her new CBS TV special, “A Holly Dolly Christmas.” But there was another big, defining element in her life that she wanted her millions of viewers to know about.
“I grew up in a big ol’ family, 12 of us kids, 6 girls and 6 boys. We had a lot of fun growing up in the mountains. We didn’t have a lot of stuff that a lot of people have. Nothing that money could buy, anyway. But we had a lot of good stuff, things money don’t buy anyway. Things like love and kindness and understanding, and all that stuff that you really need, that you can’t put a price on, right?”
The 74-year-old tapped into her humble roots throughout the understated special, performing on a candlelit stage meant to evoke the “little house of prayer” her grandfather preached in. From “Coat of Many Colors” to “I Still Believe” — and the powerful stories behind them — these are the moments that stuck with us.
If you missed “A Holly Dolly Christmas” when it aired live, you can still catch it digitally on CBS’ paid streaming platform, CBS All Access.
The century-old gospel song was a natural springboard for Parton’s childhood memories of Christmastime — when her father would personally chop down a tree, carry it home with her brothers, and the whole family would decorate it with strings of popcorn and a cardboard star wrapped in tin foil.
“Precious memories, unseen angels,” she sang without accompaniment. “Sent from somewhere to my soul/ How they linger, ever near me/ Precious, sacred scenes unfold.”
‘Coat of Many Colors’
Parton’s classic, autobiographical song — about the coat her mother stitched together from rags — was especially resonant on Sunday’s special. Parton remembered when their family church was able to give all of its members a “grab bag” of gifts for Christmas, but after they’d handed them out to all of the Parton children, there wasn’t a bag left for her mother.
“I saw Mama sitting on the bench, crying,” an emotional Parton recalled. “She didn’t make any noise. But I went over and said, ‘Mommy you can have mine.’ She said, ‘No, no, but I love you because of your good heart.’ So because of mom. I’ve always tried to have a good heart.”
‘Circle of Love’
Jennifer Nettles first recorded this Parton composition for her 2016 album “To Celebrate Christmas.” Parton’s own version is a standout on her “Holly Dolly Christmas” album, as she sings of a “halo of light” that made Bethlehem glow at Christ’s birth.
‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’
Parton said that when she first heard Teresa Brewer’s version of the 1952 holiday hit, “I thought that was the cutest thing I’d ever heard.”
She decided to do her own version for “Holly Dolly Christmas” mainly to “do a song for the kids” — but as she subsequently pointed out, she’s done a lot of children across the country and the world. Her “Imagination Library” program provides one free book per month to over one million children across the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K.
‘I Still Believe’
“I do wish you a Merry Merry Christmas, no matter how limited it might be this year,” Parton told viewers before her final song.
“And I’m hoping for a better New Year. I’m sure you are, because Lordy this couldn’t get much crazier could it?”
That tumultuous year, on the other hand, birthed a new, inspiring song from her: “I Still Believe.”
“I believe to my very core,” Parton sang with a socially distanced choir, “We’ll walk again in the sunshine by the seashore/ That we’ll dance and we’ll sing and be happy again
Don’t know how or when, but we will again/ You’ll see…I still believe.”
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