At the beginning of the pandemic, when news updates were changing drastically by the hour and the future was scarily unclear, the only thing I could listen to was Dolly Parton’s 1977 song, “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” The songbird-like trill of her voice singing “everything’s gonna be all right, it’s gonna be okay,” was a tonic in the waking hours of those horrific, torturously slow days.
In May, seemingly knowing that her music was one of the only things holding us all together, Parton released a song specifically about the pandemic: “When Life Is Good Again.” She sings, “We’ve been brought to our knees / We’ve been so ill at ease / There are no guarantees / But you know life goes on / This too shall pass away / Bring new and different days / We need to change our ways / And right our wrongs.”
And she’s not done comforting us in 2020. On October 2, and for the first time in 30 years, Parton released a Christmas album called A Holly Dolly Christmas, featuring duet partners including Michael Bublé, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus, Jimmy Fallon, Willie Nelson, Darren and Rhonda Vincent, and her brother Randy Parton.
“I just want [the album] to take people’s mind off of their burdens, and to let them enjoy themselves for a few minutes,” Parton says in an email interview. “That’s what music is supposed to be, is an escape. I know it always has been for me.”
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The festivities continue this Friday, when Amazon Music will air Dolly Parton’s Comin’ Home for Christmas special. The event will feature an exclusive performance from her new album, including the songs “Circle of Love,” “Comin’ Home For Christmas,” and “Mary, Did You Know?” as well as a live Q&A session for fans.
So, why now? “Well, Lord, you know it’s been thirty years since I did my last [Christmas album],” Parton says. “I can’t believe that fact myself. But with COVID and all of the things going on in our country right now, I felt like we really needed a break and to do it with a holiday message seemed perfect to me. The music is not only fun, but can also be uplifting, and I enjoyed all the duet partners that I got to play with. It was so much fun—I hope it comes across as fun to you as it did to me.”
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The fact that the special is called Comin’ Home for Christmas is a bittersweet irony in a year when so many of us will not be traveling to see our families. Parton understands the kind of sorrow that comes with the holidays this year, and she’s here for all of us. In fact, she’s going through it, too.
“I hate it more than anybody that I might not get to spend as much time with my family as I want to,” she says. “I feel terrible for everybody who is in the same boat, but I guess we have to be safe and think about others and their health first.”
So, besides listening to this holiday album on repeat, I was curious what Parton recommended as we all try to get by in these last two months of 2020. Her answer was short and simple:
“That is the easiest question I’ve been asked all day—I pray.”
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