Stars Gather to Honor Dolly Parton at MusiCares Person of the Year Gala

Dolly Parton - Getty

Many famous faces — including Willie Nelson, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Pink and Garth Brooks, among others — paid tribute to the iconic singer-songwriter.

Dolly Parton may be the most awarded artist in the history of country music, but when the iconic musician took the Los Angeles Convention Center stage on Friday night to receive this year’s MusiCares Person of the Year honor, she reminded friends and fans alike why, music aside, she is so revered.

"It’s been such a thrill for me tonight to see all these great artists that are singing songs that I’ve written and been part of," said Parton. "Watching them is sort of like watching porn — you’re not personally involved, but you still get off on it."

The singer-songwriter, with more than 3,000 songs to her name, was surprised by longtime friends Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris — with whom Parton recorded the Trio albums — who presented her with the award. It was a rare appearance from Ronstadt who, due to complications from Parkinson’s, can no longer sing.

"I truly am honored to be the MusiCares Person of the Year, and the first country artist to be honored. That's a great honor," said Parton. "I truly can feel the love in this house tonight. Either that or my telephone's on vibrate."

She went on to detail her journey to the top. "It's a long, long way from the hills of east Tennessee to the Hollywood Hills, but it has been a wonderful journey," Parton said. "People say to me, 'Well, wasn't it a man's world back when you got in the business?' I said, 'It sure was, and honey, I had a ball.' Because I have actually worked for so many wonderful men and I have 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."

Throughout the evening, musicians from genres ranging from pop, rock, gospel and country paid tribute to Parton, proving her broad appeal. As Miley Cyrus — who herself performed "Islands in the Stream" with Shawn Mendes — introduced her godmother’s performance of "Coat of Many Colors," she told the crowd: "She’s not just my fairy godmother, she’s everyone’s."

Hosted by Little Big Town, who will be performing with Parton during Sunday’s Grammy Awards, the evening was kicked off by Pink’s rendition of "Jolene," one of Parton’s most covered songs, followed by Willie Nelson and Brandi Carlile, the country star with the most Grammy nominations this year, taking the stage together to perform "Everything’s Beautiful."

"We love you, Doll," Nelson called out from the stage, one of many to express his fondness for the artist throughout the night.

Lauren Daigle performed "The Seeker," while five-time Grammy winner Chris Stapleton lent his voice to the feminist anthem "9 to 5." The biggest standing ovation of the evening — Parton’s stage appearance aside — went to gospel singer Yolanda Adams, for hitting the highs in "I Will Always Love You," the song that Parton told Elvis Presley he could not cover (Presley wanted half the publishing rights), but later gave Whitney Houston rights to for the Bodyguard soundtrack, making it the best-selling single by a woman in music history. 

Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves took the stage together for Parton’s 1977 hit, "Here You Come Again." "We love you, Dolly! We want to be just like you when we grow up," Perry quipped after their performance. 

Even for Parton’s close friends, performing one of her songs can be nerve-racking. "There is not a song up there tonight, that if she stood up and did it, wouldn’t blow everybody away," Garth Brooks told reporters before taking the stage with wife Trisha Yearwood to sing "Old Flames."

"That voice!" said Yearwood. "Forget it. I don’t know what we were thinking — we’re going to sing a Dolly song tonight, in front of her?"

The event, which benefited MusiCares, a program that helps musicians with addiction recovery and rehabilitation, among other issues, raised more than $6.7 million, in part by auctioning off a Gibson custom guitar signed by Parton; a luxury vacation in Tuscany; and a meet-and-greet with Parton herself at Dollywood, which included receiving a costume from her legendary closet. The meet-and-greet was bought by Cyrus for $90,000, as well as another guest that matched the bid. 

The industry’s affection for Parton was on display all night, from an appearance by Reese Witherspoon, who called her "a beacon since I’ve been a little girl," to Cyrus, who imparted her godmother’s favorite quote: "Never judge a book by its covers — or its huge tits."