Linda Ronstadt makes rare public appearance to honor Dolly Parton at MusiCares Grammy gala

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Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton onstage at the MusiCares Person of the Year gala on Feb. 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Getty Images)

Dolly Parton’s “Trio” bandmates, surprise guests Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt (the latter making a rare public appearance since her 2012 Parkinson’s diagnosis), were among the many celebrities honoring Parton at the MusiCares Person of the Year Grammy event, held Friday at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“It’s such a sweet thing for me and Linda to be here tonight celebrating our very dear and great friend,” said Harris. “Such an extraordinary woman who has touched so many lives with her remarkable talent, but not just with her talent — her grace, her humor. She’s one of the funniest people I know; she cracks me up.”

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Parton soon had the entire audience, which included everyone from Sammy Hagar to Nancy Pelosi, cracking up with her irreverent acceptance speech. “Everyone always expects me to do a boob joke, and I like to do that right up front,” she began, alluding to being known for “two things… singing and songwriting.” She also said, “I truly can feel the love in the house tonight. Either that or my phone’s on vibrate!” When noting that she is the first country artist to be feted at the annual Grammy gala for MusiCares — the charity arm of the Recording Academy that helps musicians with, among other issues, addiction recovery and rehabilitation — Parton quipped, “We hillbillies need MusiCares too! We may not have sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, but two out of three ain’t bad!”

Parton had the audience whooping and hollering when she reflected on her career by saying, “People say to me, ‘Wasn’t it a man’s world back when you got in the business?’ I said, ‘It sure was! And buddy, I had a ball!’ I have actually worked with so many wonderful men, and I’ve never met a man that I didn’t like. And I’ve never met a man whose ass I couldn’t kick if he didn’t treat me with the right respect.” And she had the audience gasping when she described watching the evening’s all-stars cover her classic songs as “sort of like watching porn — you’re not personally involved, but you still get off on it!”

Highlights among the night’s cover-song performances were P!nk, wearing a Nudie suit with Dolly’s name embroidered on the back, opening the show with “Jolene”; Yolanda Adams’s fiery and standing ovation-garnering “I Will Always Love You”; Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s tender and chemistry-filled duet of “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You”; Chris Stapleton’s rugged and ragged take on “9 to 5”; former CMT Crossroad duet partners Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves reuniting for “Here You Come Again”; Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing 2019 honoree Willie Nelson and six-time 2019 Grammy nominee Brandi Carlile’s “Everything’s Beautiful (In Its Own Way)”; and Parton’s goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, crooning “Islands in the Stream” with Shawn Mendes in the Kenny Rogers role and Mark Ronson accompanying on guitar.

“This is the best night — we just get to hear Dolly songs all night long!” gushed Cyrus, who later during the live auction bid $90,000 for a meet-and-greet with Parton. “[Dolly] taught the world to never judge a book by its cover — or its boobs and big hair.”

The MusiCares Person of the Year award recognizes musicians for their artistic and philanthropic achievement, with the annual ceremony raising money for the foundation. (In the past 29 years, the organization has raised $140 million; Friday’s event brought in $6.7 million.) Parton was celebrated not just for a 50-year career that has included nine Grammy wins, 47 Grammy nominations, 25 gold or platinum records, 110 chart hits (25 of which went to No. 1), and an estimated 3,000 songs written overall, but for her many charitable endeavors.

Parton seemed especially proud to be honored for her literacy program, the Imagination Library, which mails one book per month to each enrolled child until they turn 5 years old. Parton explained, during a more serious portion of her speech, that she started the program in honor of her father, who could not read or write. “He was one of the smartest people I’d ever known in spite of that, but it was kind of crippling to him. I often wondered what my daddy might have been, had he been able to read and write.” She said she was thrilled that her father lived long enough to see the Imagination Library become a huge success (with more than 100 million free children’s books disseminated around the world). “He got such a kick out of kids calling me the ‘book lady,’” she said proudly.

The night ended sweetly with a final performance of a classic song inspired by Parton’s mother, “Coat of Many Colors,” with Parton’s Dumplin’ soundtrack collaborator and 2019 Producer of the Year Grammy nominee Linda Perry accompanying Parton on acoustic guitar. The full 2019 MusiCares Person of the Year concert setlist was as follows:

P!nk — “Jolene”
Brandi Carlile & Willie Nelson — “Everything’s Beautiful (In Its Own Way)”
Lauren Daigle — “I Am a Seeker”
Miley Cyrus, Shawn Mendes & Mark Ronson — “Islands in the Stream”
Chris Stapleton — “9 to 5”
Katy Perry & Kacey Musgraves — “Here You Come Again”
Norah Jones & Puss N Boots — “The Grass Is Blue”
Don Henley & Vince Gill — “Eagle When She Flies”
Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood — “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You”
Mavis Staples, Leon Bridges & Jon Batiste — “Not Enough”
Yolanda Adams — “I Will Always Love You”
Jennifer Nettles, Cam & Margo Price –  “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”
Dolly Parton & Linda Perry —  “Coat of Many Colors”

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