WNYC Studios and Jad Abumrad present “Dolly Parton’s America”

A Nine-Part Podcast Series Exploring America
Through the Life and Legacy of One of America’s Most Beloved Icons


Features interviews with DOLLY PARTON, as well as 
JANE FONDA, GLORIA STEINEM, Nashville legend RALPH EMERY, folk singer RHIANNON GIDDENS, author and journalist SARAH SMARSH, author HELEN MORALES, DR. NAJI ABUMRAD, Parton family members, University of Tennessee-Knoxville students, among many others


Launches Tuesday, October 15


Audio trailer available here 


(New York, NY -- October 3, 2019) -- Even in this fractious time, there’s something most Americans seem to agree on: everybody loves Dolly!  Hailed as the “Great Unifier,” Dolly Parton has the rare ability to bring people together across divides.  She’s an international superstar who Southerners claim as “one of us.” Evangelical Christians see a proud woman of faith.  For LGBTQ+ people, she’s an oasis in sometimes hostile territory. And now, in the fifth decade of an enduring career, Dolly has been freshly discovered by young women who’ve declared her a feminist icon.


Starting Tuesday, October 15, Jad Abumrad and WNYC Studios, one of the industry’s most influential podcast producers, present “Dolly Parton’s America,” a nine-part podcast series that will retrace the steps to Dolly’s near-universal appeal, and turn the mirror around to discover what America’s collective adoration reflects and reveals about us.  


Hosted by Nashville native Jad Abumrad, creator of the wildly popular, award-winning WNYC Studios podcast Radiolab, “Dolly Parton’s America” leads us on a journey that starts in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and then heads off to the hills of Nairobi, the mountains of Lebanon,  a classroom in East Tennessee, a red carpet premiere in the United Kingdom, and back to Nashville to investigate Jad’s own father’s journey to America. Along the way, the series moves far beyond Dolly’s biography to dig deep into personal, political and philosophical questions about feminism, faith, migration, immigration, workers’ rights, the South, the American Dream, and the universal longing for home.  


The series features intimate recollections and insights from a range of people in the “Dollyverse”—starting with Dolly herself.  Culled from over 12 hours of interviews, Dolly opens up on her life, her music, her business empire, faith, politics, and the afterlife. The series takes listeners behind the scenes with her at the London premiere of 9 to 5 the Musical, and revisits the awkward moment at the 2017 Emmys when Fonda and Lily Tomlin got political, and Dolly deflected with a boob joke. Dolly opens up on why she adamantly refuses to take public stands on political issues, even at a time when everyone is expected to have an opinion and take a side. And in the her most personal revelation, Dolly describes the moment she found God in an abandoned church, and the one time she contemplated suicide. 


“Dolly Parton’s America” widens its lens to include 50+ voices that illuminate, contextualize—   and in some cases, challenge—conventional notions of what Dolly’s story represents.  Listeners hear from family and friends, business associates, country music insiders, Appalachian and Nashville commentators and academics, and of course, the multitudes of fans who find common cause in her music. 


Below is a partial list of interviewees: 


  • Dolly’s nephew and bodyguard, Bryan Seaver, takes Jad to the beloved Tennessee mountain home so often referenced in her lyrics—but thought by some to be myth 


  • Jane Fonda, 9 to 5 costar and longtime friend, gives her take on the 2017 Emmys moment


  • Gloria Steinem, finds a kindred spirit in Dolly, and illustrates Dolly’s revolutionary level of control in her decisions, whatever they may be


  • Students of the “Dolly Parton’s America” class at UT-Knoxville open up about how Dolly’s vision of the South is both empowering and diminishing to their sense of identity 


  • Dr. Naji Abumrad, a physician who advised Dolly after her 2014 car accident (and Jad’s father), describes his journey from Lebanon to the United States, and how Nashville became home


  • Rhiannon Giddens talks about the migration of instruments over the last several centuries and how country music is the soundtrack of migration  


  • Charlie Hurst, manager of the Cas Walker grocery store where Dolly first performed, shares his memory of seeing her sing and getting her hair done for the first time at age 13


  • Sarah Smarsh, author, scholar, and media commentator on socioeconomic class, politics and rural issues, believes that when it comes to feminism, Dolly’s actions speak much more loudly than words 


  • Journalist Aisha Harris, whose story for Slate “Springtime for the Confederacy” scrutinized Dolly’s dinner theater and contributed to the controversial removal of the word “Dixie” from its title


  • Patricia Resnik, screenwriter of 9 to 5, shares how Dolly’s character in the film was based on a secretary who shared her painful story, and how she herself was ultimately “9 to 5’ed on the set of 9 to 5” 


  • Cole Tipton, Knoxville-born Young Farmers of America member and a budding drag queen, whose debut performance was a tribute to Dolly


“I grew up in Nashville, where Dolly is practically on every street corner, smiling down from countless billboards, practically infusing the air,” said Jad Abumrad. “She was so ubiquitous that I didn't think about her much. But in the past few years, as her stature has grown and as America has become so culturally and politically divided, I found myself thinking about Dolly all over again. I mean, she’s such a singular figure.  As a songwriter, she’s almost Mozart level.  As a performer, she manages to speak to so many different audiences at once.  And as an entertainer, she’s been in the public eye so long that she's intersected nearly every social and cultural movement in America over the last 50 years. With ‘Dolly Parton’s America,’ I wanted to use Dolly’s incredible life story and discography as a lens to observe our country at this particular moment in time.” 

Abumrad continued, “And speaking personally, interviewing Dolly, experiencing up close the depth of meaning she brings to people, and learning more about my dad’s journey from Lebanon to the same city Dolly calls home, gave me a chance to appreciate Dolly and my hometown in a whole new way.”

“Dolly has been in the public eye for over five decades and even as she’s having a “moment” across the culture this fall, leave it to Jad to find original ways for us think about her life, music, and legacy,” said Andrew Golis, Chief Content Officer, WNYC. “WNYC Studios is proud to be a place where some of the most inventive hosts and producers can create wildly innovative and thought-provoking work, and help us see and experience our world—even a much-beloved celebrity—anew. After two years in the making, WNYC Studios is thrilled to bring audiences ‘Dolly Parton’s America.’”



WNYC Studios is the premier producer of on-demand and broadcast audio, home to some of the industry’s most critically acclaimed and popular podcasts, including Radiolab, On The Media, Nancy, Trump, Inc., The New Yorker Radio Hour, Death, Sex & Money, Snap Judgment, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, and The Stakes. WNYC Studios is leading the new golden age in audio with podcasts and national radio programs that inform, inspire, and delight millions of intellectually curious and highly engaged listeners across digital, mobile, and broadcast platforms. Programs include personal narratives, deep journalism, interviews that reveal, and smart entertainment as varied and intimate as the human voice itself. For more information, visit wnycstudios.wnyc.org.



Osm Audio is the production company of Jad Abumrad, host and creator of WNYC Studios’ Radiolab, one of the most influential and downloaded podcasts, and More Perfect, hailed by The New York Times as “possibly the most mesmerizing podcast.” Osm is an incubator of new podcasts and audio projects. Shima Oliaee (Osm producer/production manager) reported and produced “Dolly Parton’s America,” and will be heard on several of the episodes.