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Dolly Parton: ‘If I want something hell or high water ain’t gonna stop me’

Parton has been widely praised for her $1 million donation to a promising Covid-19 vaccine trial, she tells Jane Graham why she will always do what she wants
Image credit: Stacie Huckeba Courtesy of Butterfly Records LLC

Dolly Parton has revealed her determination to be a global superstar and why she turned down Elvis Presley in The Big Issue’s Letter To My Younger Self

Parton – who recently was widely praised for her $1 million donation to a promising Covid-19 vaccine trial – told Jane Graham in an exclusive interview that she “just had a feeling inside my gut” that she was destined to be a singer.

“I know who I am. I know what I’m not. I know what I can and cannot do. I don’t get myself involved in things that I know are out of my realm. But if there’s something I can do and I want to do, hell or high water ain’t gonna stop me.” 

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This mentality and belief in her principles, she said, was part of the reason she refused Elvis Presley the chance to cover one of her most famous songs, I Will Always Love You.

“I’d been invited down to the studio to meet Elvis and be there when he sang my song. That was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. Who doesn’t love Elvis? 

“But then Colonel [Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager] called me the afternoon before the session and said, you do know we have to have at least half the publishing on any song that Elvis records? And I said no, I did not know that. He said, well, it’s just a rule. So I said, well, it’s not my rule.”

She said the decision left her crying “all night long”.

“It wasn’t Elvis, I loved Elvis. And I’m sure he was as disappointed as I was because he had it all worked up and ready to go.

“I know he loved the song. Priscilla told me later that he sang that song to her when they were coming down the steps of the courthouse after they divorced. That really touched me.

“But it wasn’t his fault. I found out later that Colonel Tom had an even bigger demand for any brand new song Elvis recorded; in those cases 100 per cent of the publishing went to them. Yeah, Tom was a strict manager, he was a good manager and I don’t blame him for asking, but I don’t blame me for saying no.”

Parton credits her mother’s passion for music and her father’s work ethic in her journey to becoming the most revered country music icon. 

The influence of her parents continues to inspire her work today; she founded the Imagination Library – a project donating children a free book each month from birth to age five – as a tribute to her late father who was unable to pursue his dreams because of illiteracy. 

The 74-year-old said she would tell her younger self about the success of that instantly recognisable love song and the compromises she would have to make along the way. 

“It’s not going to all be fun and games, you’re going to have to pay the price and do your sacrificing, but it’s going to be worth it.” 

Read more from Dolly Parton on her life, what she would say to Elvis now if given the chance and her latest project in this week’s Big Issue. You can buy it from your local vendor across the UK, download a digital copy now from The Big Issue UK app or order a copy to be sent to you wherever you in the world from our online shop.

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