Debbie Carroll, Vice President of MusiCares, Talks Dolly Parton as Person of the Year & Helping the Music Community

MusiCares is just days away from honoring Dolly Parton as its Person of the Year at its annual tribute at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Feb. 8.

This year is particularly special for the organization, which provides support for musical people in times of need, as it is celebrating an exciting accomplishment. Just this past year, MusiCares distributed a record breaking $6.4 million dollars worth of services (including dental care, health services, equipment replacement and addiction recovery) to more than 8,500 members of the music industry. Additionally, the company focused on Hurricane Harvey relief, providing help to music professionals in the Texas region.

The star-studded tribute to Parton will also include performances by Vince Gill, Don Henley, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples,Linda Perry, Leon Bridges, Lauren Daigle, Norah Jones, Shawn Mendes, P!nk, Mark Ronson and Chris Stapleton.

"Our mission is to serve the music community during times of need, so all of our projects and services focus on that mission." MusiCares VP Debbie Carroll said of 2018's achievements. Ahead of the celebration, Billboard chatted with Carroll to discuss why the country superstar was the perfect choice for Person of the Year, as well as the ever-growing nature of MusiCares as a whole.

Catch the Grammy Awards two days later on Feb. 10, which will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST on CBS.

Do you think MusiCares helps change the stereotype that people in the music industry are all rich enough to afford health services?

I think the top 1% of the music industry are the mega stars we all know and love, and then there’s thousands of individuals that not only support artists like those, but also bands that may not be as well known or producers, engineers or songwriters that may not be as well known. Typically, music people are independent contractors and they don’t have access to the benefits that other professions may have, such as retirement plans or access to affordable healthcare. They then become much more vulnerable when any type of life crisis occurs, which could be smaller scale but can result in a pretty catastrophic issue financially. For example, a guitar player who may be playing for a well known artist, accidentally falls off the ladder, breaks their arm and then they are unable to work for six weeks. Since many work as independent contractors, they lack income to get them through that period of time, in addition to potentially not having access to health insurance, so that’s where we come in. We’re here to fill those potholes in life that we all hit, but music people may be more vulnerable

Do artists/music people usually reach out to the organization if they need help?Individuals typically reach out to us, but also we’re backstage at many major music award shows, festivals or concerts, so people know our name and know our brand. If they hit a difficult time, they can also reach out to one of our three offices. All of our assistance is confidential in nature and an individual doesn’t have to be affiliated with the Recording Academy to receive assistance. They need to document that they have been in the music industry for five years in order to qualify for financial assistance.

For MusiCares Person of the Year, why was Dolly the perfect choice?
Everything about Dolly Parton is such an amazing and magnificent choice as an honoree for MusiCares person of the year. She’s not only an iconic and well respected artist, but she’s also has such a philanthropic spirit. She gives so generously to a variety of charitable efforts, from educational, and literacy efforts to supporting the individuals who were affected by the devastating wildfires in Gatlinburg. She is the perfect choice for MusiCares and we are grateful for the opportunity to honor her. Again, everything that she’s about as an artist and a human being speaks to what MusiCares is about in terms of an organization. 

She also reaches so many different audiences, of different ages and interests.
It’s so true. Her scope is vast, and the love she receives from fans is tremendous. She reaches a wide audience and so many love and adore her.

The performance lineup has such a range of genre and ages. Would you say that’s a good representation of MusiCare’s reach in the industry?
Absolutely. MusiCares is an organization that supports the music industry, regardless of the genre or profession. We provide assistance for producers, songwriters, engineers, record label execs, to bus drivers, light tech individuals to singers. We’re obviously a music industry focused organization,  but we strive to be inclusive and assist as many people we possibly can who fall within our eligibility and within our mission. So the representation we have for Person of the Year speaks to that, but also speaks to the love that Dolly Parton has within the music community—it expands all genres. Not only will it make for a remarkable evening, but it also speaks to what MusiCares is about.

Do you have anything planned for the new year?
We don’t have anything new and different, per se, but we are constantly expanding our programs and services to address circumstances and issues within the music community. The opioid crisis is of upmost importance to us. We’re not unique in our focus and our desire to address that issue, but the music community has certainly been affected by that, as well as the nation as a whole. We’re also very interested in what I call emotional health issues and suicide prevention. The nation as a whole has seen a significant rise in suicide rates and we are committed to addressing this issue in the music community.  We’ve got a variety of different programs and services that address these topics, in addition to programming that addresses other topics of interest to the music community, from financial wellness to sober jams, which are clean and sober opportunities for individuals to get together and practice their craft. We’re launching a new sober jam in Nashville in the upcoming weeks. But we’re constantly keeping our thumbs on the pulse of the needs of the music community, so we can be there to address those needs.  

What’s your favorite part about being part of MusiCares?
That’s a hard question because there are so many facets of MusiCares that I adore.  I feel very fortunate to be a part of this organization every day and I’ve been here a very long time. One of the things that attracted me to MusiCares many years ago was that it’s an organization that takes care of its own and truly cares about its community. A group got together to create this organization to make sure that the people who give us so much every day in terms of the music that’s created have a safe place to turn to when they are in need. I strongly believe that there are many professions that could use an organization like MusiCares. That’s the best part, MusiCares is for music people, and we can be there when music people need us and are the most vulnerable, which is a tremendous gift.