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When Dolly Parton gave an interview masterclass in 1977

Dolly Parton is one of the most well-respected musicians of all time. The queen of American country, she helped to show that women could compete with men and outclass them in every way. A critical and commercial juggernaut, Parton has penned some of the best-beloved tracks in popular culture, including ‘9 to 5’, ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Jolene’.

Although she’s had a life and career full of many twists and turns, the one thing that has always carried Parton through thick and thin has been her unwavering dedication to her art and self-respect. Possessing a self-awareness that many musicians could only dream of having, Parton always knew where she fit in the world of culture and consistently railed against what people wanted her to do and be.

Whether it be image, music or otherwise, she’s remained true to herself across her 50-plus-year career, and this has given her efforts a relevance of such a degree that we’re still fascinated by her today. Aside from her music, she’s a business tycoon and philanthropist, showing there’s nothing she cannot do, a huge finger up to the misogynistic world that she was brought up in. She’s defied expectations and made herself a legend in the process.

One of the best Dolly Parton moments came back in 1977 when interviewed by Barbara Walters. Faced with a set of patronising questions posed by Walters, Parton remained graceful and humoured the veteran broadcaster’s ignorant angle.

To kick things off, Walters asked Parton if she is a “hillbilly”, making the distinction between where she comes from, Boston, and Parton’s humble rural roots. Parton responds humorously and says that if Walters had called her a “hillbilly” she probably would have kicked her shins “or something”.

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Walters wasn’t finished there either. She asks: “When I’m thinking of ‘hillbilly’s’ am I thinking of your kind of people?” The affable Parton responds, by saying that “I think you probably are”, before describing her upbringing in rural Tennesse. Parton explains that they were “proud people” and that they had “a lot of class. It was country class, but it was a great deal of class”.

This almost bigoted questioning set a precedent for the whole interview, but Parton remained elegant. She was asked about the origins of her “full figure” and why she doesn’t have to wear the “extreme clothes”. Parton, in no uncertain terms, revealed that she never wanted to be like anyone else, and what you see is what you get.

Concisely getting the essence of her persona across, the country heroine said: “I’ve often made this statement that I would never stoop so low as to be fashionable, that’s the easiest thing in the world to do. So I just decided that I would do something that would at least get the attention. Once they got past the shock of the ridiculous way I looked and all that, then they would see there was parts of me to be appreciated. I’m very real where it counts, and that’s inside.”

Ultimately to Parton, show business is a “money-making joke”, and she’s “always liked telling jokes”. Walters then asks if Parton feels as if she’s a joke to the public, to which she responds that over her career the joke has always been on the public. She knew “exactly” what she was doing, and she could “change it any time”.

Self-assured and clear, this interview is vintage Dolly Parton. There’s no wonder she’s one of the most eminent performers of all time. Faithful to herself and laughing in the face of her detractors, she’s always been a genuine iconoclast.

Watch the interview below.