“We love you, Doll,” said Willie Nelson affectionately, undoubtedly speaking for everyone in the ballroom at the Los Angeles Convention Center Friday night (Feb. 8) as Dolly Parton was honored as MusiCares Person of the Year.
Nelson and Brandi Carlile’s recreation of “Everything’s Beautiful (In Its Own Way)” — a No. 7 hit for Parton and Nelson in 1983 — was one of the many highlights of the night. The event, hosted by Little Big Town, raised $6.7 million for the Recording Academy’s MusiCares program to assist musicians in need.
Combos were prevalent throughout the night, which is understandable given how difficult it is to recreate the singular voluminousness of Parton’s angelic voice. Parton’s goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, joined Shawn Mendes and Mark Ronson for a lukewarm “Islands in the Stream” — though, to be fair, no one could be expected to match the sizzling chemistry Parton and Kenny Rogers displayed on the 1983 smash.
Former tour mates Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves delivered a sassy “Here You Come Again,” and two-thirds of the current Eagles incarnation, Don Henley and Vince Gill, teamed for a harmony-filled “Eagle When She Flies.” Not surprisingly, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood displayed the evening’s strongest chemistry on a slow, simmering take on “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You,” with Brooks backing his wife on acoustic guitar and occasionally chiming in on vocals. Though nothing could replicate the exquisite intertwining of Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris’s voices on their Trio projects, Cam, Jennifer Nettles and Margo Price came damn close on their wistful, gorgeous rendition of “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.”
No Parton salute would be complete without devoting at least a few numbers to her gospel roots. Lauren Daigle took to a rotating stage in the center of the room to deliver a version of “The Seeker” that captured the song’s sacred and profane duality, while Mavis Staples, Leon Bridges and Jon Batiste, accompanied by a full choir, got the audience swaying with “Not Enough.”
Parton’s biggest hit, “I Will Always Love You,” is not technically a gospel song, but the evening’s producers very wisely turned to gospel titan Yolanda Adams to deliver a roof-raising version of the song so powerful that Adams’ vocals could probably be heard out in the street. She earned a rousing standing ovation for her performance.
In addition to Adams and Daigle, a number of acts performed solo: P!nk opened the show by setting the bar high with Parton classic “Jolene” while capturing the song’s defiant tone, and Chris Stapleton turned the jaunty “9 To 5” into a rollicking working man’s theme.
In a surprise appearance, Harris and Ronstadt presented a visibly touched Parton with her award. Though no longer able to sing because of Parkinson’s Disease, Ronstadt looked and sounded good during her part of the presentation, even laughing after Parton’s award dropped on Ronstadt’s foot.
In her 8-minute speech, which was a combination of stand-up comedy and heartfelt reflection, Parton — who has landed 26 No. 1s on Billboard’s Country Songs chart — took a good-natured jab at MusiCares for honoring a country artist as Person of the Year for the first time in 2019.
“Of course, you know we hillbillies need MusiCares too. We may not have the sex, drugs and rock and roll, but two out of three ain’t bad,” she said.
Looking back over her 50-year career, she reminisced, “People say to me, ‘Well, wasn’t it a man’s world when you got into the business?’ And I say, it sure was and, buddy, I had a ball. I have actually worked with so many wonderful men. 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,” she said, drawing hoots and hollers from the audience.
She thanked the evening’s artists for singing her songs before adding that “watching them is sort of like watching porn. You’re not personally involved, but you still get off on it. I really got off on this show tonight.”
As the clock approached 11:30 p.m., Parton noted the hour: “I know it’s late and I know you want to pee — I know I do! — so I’m going to do one more song if you don’t mind.” She then closed the night with a beautiful version of the autobiographical “Coat of Many Colors.”
Since 1989, MusiCares has aided close to 150,000 clients and distributed close to $60 million, according to Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow.
MusiCares 2019 Person of the Year set list:
“Everything is Beautiful (In Its Own Way),” Willie Nelson & Brandi Carlile
“The Seeker,” Lauren Daigle
“Islands in the Stream,” Miley Cyrus, Shawn Mendes & Mark Ronson
“9 To 5,” Chris Stapleton
“Here You Come Again,” Katy Perry & Kacey Musgraves
“The Grass is Blue,” Norah Jones w/ Puss N Boots
“Eagle When She Flies,” Don Henley & Vince Gill
“Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You,” Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood
“Not Enough,” Mavis Staples, Leon Bridges and Jon Batiste
“I Will Always Love You,” Yolanda Adams
“Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” Cam, Jennifer Nettles and Margo Price
“Coat of Many Colors,” Dolly Parton & Linda Perry