HOUSTON – My kids don’t know who Dolly Parton is, but they’ll see her tonight on YouTube.
The country music legend and national treasure will hold her first YouTube bedtime reading of “The Little Engine That Could” at 7 p.m., and I think it should be “required” reading for all of us grappling with the questions of life amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Could she help heal the nation’s hearts? The writer of “Coat of Many Colors” and “I Will Always Love You” has done it before. Most people can recall how they felt hearing a Dolly song for the first time. I know I can.
Dolly Parton has been an idol of mine since I was about 3 years old. I would pick up my kid-size guitar, stuff some towels down the front of my shirt and belt out “9 to 5” before I even knew what any of it meant. My mom played Dolly’s songs on the record player. I felt energized, excited, strong and then, so easily, heartbroken and sad when ”Coat of Many Colors" played.
To say that this bedtime event is mandatory viewing is putting things mildly. And there’s never been a better time for the legend to make an appearance. We need Dolly right now.
I saw Parton when she visited Houston in 2016. Though I am an avid fan, I had never seen her in concert before. I was amazed at the diversity of the audience she drew. Drag queens sat beside cowboys. People of every hue and seemingly every political persuasion were represented. They all sang her songs as one, from the desperation of “Jolene” to the heartbreak of “Little Sparrow.” Her power lies in her songs’ messages, which stretch across life’s divides that seemingly nothing else in the world can bridge. Sitting in those rows, I saw what the world could be.
Though Parton has been at the center of some controversy concerning her shows, she largely brings people together. So now, as we face one of the world’s most difficult times, I can’t think of a better person to bring us all together at day’s end.
Parton, who grew up incredibly poor, has been an advocate for children’s literacy through her Imagination Library for years, bringing books to kids through the mail. She’s like a Mister Rogers with bigger hair, larger cardigans and higher shoes.
So if you tune in tonight, know that I’ll be there too, listening in with my little ones. I hope Dolly can bring you comfort wherever you are. May she be your One Good Thing today.