PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Dolly Parton can still remember the moment she discovered her God-given purpose.
During a sit-down interview with The Christian Post and other reporters last month, the country music legend and cultural icon recalled how, as a little girl raised in the Smoky Mountains, an old woman once told her: “You are anointed.”
“We grew up in the church and my grandpa was a Pentecostal preacher,” Parton recalled. “So healing and praying and being anointed and all that stuff, that was nothing new to us, ‘cause we survived because of our faith in God to get us through and all that. But when that old lady told me that I was anointed, I didn't know what that was. I was just thinking it was like, olive oil.”
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When Parton asked her mother to explain what the old woman meant, she responded, "That means that God has His hand on you; that you may do something special.”
“That,” the award-winning singer added, “triggered a faith in me because I believe that I was supposed to do something good. After she told me that, I thought, ‘Well then this is my responsibility. I'm going to do something good.'”
“So I kinda held that also in the back of my mind, whether that was predestined or not, or whether I just took that little grain of faith and made that so for myself,” the “Jolene” singer continued.
“I never let go of that. I always felt responsible to God that I was supposed to be doing something for God. I still feel like that, and I'm still doing it, trying to. Sinning all the way, but trying my best, and asking forgiveness seventy times seven.”
At the age of 18, Parton left rural Tennessee and followed her passion for singing to Nashville. It wasn’t long before she launched a music and acting career that spanned decades, selling over 100 million albums worldwide and winning numerous awards.
One of the most beloved public figures in the world, Parton’s charitable and philanthropic efforts are as notable as her music.
She’s worked to improve literacy and promote education through programs such as her Imagination Library, which has given away over 100 million books to children around the world since 1995. In her hometown of Tennessee, she raised over $11 million to help those affected by the fires that ravaged Sevier County in 2016.
“Every day I pray for God to lead me and to take out all the wrong things, wrong people in my life, and bring all the right things, right people, and to let me glorify Him and uplift mankind — to do something in this world to make it a little better than it was. And let me be a light and a vessel to be used,” Parton explained of her charitable efforts.
“I just wanted to do what I can in this world to make things better if I can, and I'm in a position to do it. If you get in a position to help, you should help,” she added.
And at 73 years of age, the legendary singer said she’s not quitting anytime soon.
“I live on spiritual energy, creative and spiritual energy, because I do go a lot,” Parton said. “I work hard. I work really, really hard. But I love my work. It's like, only when you go through family problems or heartaches [that] you actually have to lean on God for even more. But I really feel like I have a calling. I always felt I had a mission. Don't know what all it is, but I feel like God had told me early in a feeling that I was supposed to go until He told me to stop.”
“He ain't said nothing yet about quitting,” she continued. “So I ain't said nothing about retiring yet. But I just know that I will go until I can't go anymore, ‘cause I do believe that I can give something to this world. Until God says stop, I’ll keep going.”
On Nov. 22, Netflix will debut “Dolly Parton's Heartstrings,” an anthology series based on the music of, executive produced by, and co-starring Parton herself. While the show is not explicitly faith-based (several episodes include sexual content and language), the singer said she hopes it “touches” viewers and brings joy amid “all the darkness going on in the world right now.”
“I started writing songs because we didn't have a chance to go to the movies,” Parton recalled. “We didn't have television in those early, early days, so I would write songs, just make up stories that were really kind of like movies and I would just sing them. And so now it's kind of led to this, ‘cause I really write a lot of characters and I love to paint pictures in my songs and tell stories.”
"Dolly Parton's Heartstrings" has eight episodes, each with a different cast and story. The stories come from some of Parton's songs including "Jolene," "Two Doors Down," "These Old Bones," "Sugar Hill" and others.
“We wanted eight different shows that would touch everybody,” she said, later adding, “If I touch somebody, then that's great. Then I feel like I've done something good and it makes me feel better about myself and it makes me feel like I'm hopefully doing something right and makes me want to continue.”
In addition to her forthcoming Netflix series, Parton said she’s anticipating creating new music. Recently, the singer released a song called "Faith" along with Swedish electronic dance duo Galantis. In August, she teamed up with contemporary Christian duo For King & Country for a remix of “God Only Knows.”
“I'm going to try to get more into doing more uplifting songs,” she said. “Just like 'God Only Knows' and 'Have a Little Faith in Me' and 'There was Jesus.' Not all religious songs, but just songs that are kinder, more fun, more uplifting, make you feel good about yourself, make you feel good about life and other people. I’m hoping to try to spread a little light.”
Whether she’s writing hit songs, performing in front of thousands, or using her resources and talents to help those around her, Parton said she finds peace and comfort knowing God’s hand is on her “all the time.”
“Even when I'm going through really hard times, I try to see what God is trying to teach me,” she said. “I just think, I'm supposed to be knowing something, I'm supposed to be learning something. I'm supposed to be becoming a bigger person, being taught responsibility or patience. ... I just know that everything I go through, I like to feel that I'll come out of it better.”
“It’s just like a story about the footprints in the sand,” the legendary singer said, referring to the famous poem about faith and perseverance. “[God] didn't leave me, or He was carrying me then. I either left Him or He was carrying me. So that's kinda how I look at that. When I think, ‘Where are you God? He's like, 'I'm down here, with the people.'"