The crowd waited in anticipation in the intimate theater with popcorn bags in hand. As the golden-haired, Southern superstar appeared on the big screen, someone shouted “I’ve waited 20 years for this!” and the applause roared.
The global pop-culture icon Dolly Parton is notable for her country music roots, Hollywood film roles and philanthropic initiatives. The American singer-songwriter, musician, actress, businesswoman and philanthropist has created an empire over her 50 year career. She is one of the only people to receive at least one nomination from all four major annual American entertainment award organizations.
Her impact reaches beyond the music and media scene. Many of her popular philanthropic projects reflect her big childhood dreams and roots. In 1986, Parton redeveloped a theme park in her hometown in Tennessee into the “Dollywood Theme Park.” The theme park, which gives back to the people she loves, is now the largest ticketed attraction in Tennessee and the largest job provider in the county.
Another well-known initiative is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Inspired by her father’s inability to read or write, Parton created the library in 1995 to give back to children in her hometown county. Now, the program serves five countries and gifts over 2 million free books each month to children worldwide.
For the first time, Parton will influence a new realm: rock and roll. Over a year after her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022, Parton released her first rock album titled “Rockstar” on Nov. 17 via Butterfly Records with distribution by Big Machine Label Group. The collaborative album features a variety of rock legends including the surviving Beatles, Linda Perry and Elton John. It includes nine original tracks as well as 21 iconic rock anthems, many of which are recorded with the original artists.
On Nov. 15, Parton invited fans to watch the worldwide film premiere of the Rockstar listening event. The film presented by Trafalgar Releasing features tracks from the album, never-before-seen performances and behind-the-scenes peeks. It also showcased an exclusive interview with Parton herself about the creation process of the album.
A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales from the event were donated to Music Will, the largest nonprofit music program in the United States public school system. The organization, consistent with Parton’s philanthropic values, works with sister organizations around the world to give access to music education.
The Hippodrome Theatre was one of two theaters in Gainesville to present the cinema-only event debuting Dolly Parton’s Rockstar album.
Matt Dibble, 33-year-old Hippodrome Theatre box office worker, sported his new Dollywood sweatshirt as he welcomed excited guests to the premiere, the first of its kind that the Hippodrome had hosted. As the film played, the crowd audibly sang along to well-known tracks and applauded in between each performance.
While most know and love Parton, many people did not know about the album’s release. Jane Ellis, a 66-year-old Gainesville local, was among a group of five girlfriends who attended the event for a fun night out. The group who grew up around the same time as Parton didn’t know anything about the album beforehand, but absolutely loved the premiere.
“She's come from being a character caricature of herself, because when she was younger, everybody made fun of her,” Ellis said. ”And she just kept laughing “You just wait” And here she is now and look at her.”
To many, the premiere was an opportunity to see the beloved legend in a new context. Tom Bussing, a 75-year-old Hippodrome Theatre frequent, came to the event with his wife and friends to see “an American legend coming through one more time.”
“Everybody in America is a Dolly Parton fan if they're paying any attention,” Bussing said. “She's a good-hearted person, and everything she does is very positive and very good for our nation.”
Contact Molly Seghi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @molly_seghi.
Molly Seghi is a first-year journalism major at UF and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When not writing or journaling, she can be found at a live music event or working on her podcast “An Aural Account.”