While Nashville Clams Up About Sexual Misconduct After Webster Scandal, Dolly Parton’s Sister Stella Defies ‘Gag Order’
When Nashville publicist Kirt Webster -- whose roster has included Dolly Parton and other Country Music Hall of Famers -- denied accusations of sexual misconduct made by a former singer-client on…
When Nashville publicist Kirt Webster — whose roster has included Dolly Parton and other Country Music Hall of Famers — denied accusations of sexual misconduct made by a former singer-client on Facebook last month, the news rocked the city, drawing a flurry of attention from national outlets over the course of the following 24 hours.
But since then, most local Nashville news outlets have gone radio silent about Webster.
While other industries are still abuzz over varying sexual misconduct allegations against figures such as Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose, it’s back to business as usual in Nashville, which has always had a reputation both for Southern hospitality and keeping bad news quiet or “within the family.”
It’s an attitude that Stella Parton says she knows all too well. The 68-year-old country and gospel music star — the younger sister of Dolly — is no stranger to the boardroom politics at record label offices along Music Row, having lived and worked here for more than 40 years.
“It’s like there has been a gag order given down Music Row. Like a freakin’ gag order, and I happen to be the only person in Nashville still trying to speak out on this,” Parton tells Billboard. [People have] been threatened and intimidated, and their careers have been threatened if they speak out about anything that they know has gone on. I just had a male colleague of [Webster’s] call me yesterday and [physically] threaten me for speaking out about this.”
Parton says the man that called her is part of a “team of intimidators” that “are bullying people in our industry, and people are afraid of reprisal.”
Stella Parton came to Nashville decades ago to launch her own career, and Dolly’s team at the time suggested that Stella adopt a different last name for performing, so as not to steal any exposure from her more successful older sister, fueling a short-lived rivalry between the now-close sisters. As a young performer in the 70s, Stella says she once accepted an offered ride home with a Nashville record executive — someone she says the public knows and loves — only to finally walk through the door of her home bloody and injured, having fought off the attempted rape.
“What’s insulted me the most hasn’t been the allegations against Kirt Webster, but how everyone has been so quiet. They fear the repercussions [that come with speaking out]. I can tell you exactly what they are thinking: if they pull their cowboy hats down over their eyes, and shove their shoulders against the wind, hopefully this storm will just blow over. They can just kick the crap off of their cowboy boots once it’s all swept under the rug, and move right along and continue doing what they’ve been doing for years.”
In particular, she criticized Webster’s former superstar artist clients with wives and daughters in the music industry who haven’t spoken publicly on the situation.
Few news outlets have shown interest in pursuing Stella Parton as an interview subject, despite her having known Webster for over a decade through his working relationship with her older sister.
She says the problem stems from the age-old “rampant chauvinism that has been displayed toward women in our industry. Did you know that at the Ryman Auditorium, women [performers] didn’t even used to have a dressing room? The women on the [Grand Ole] Opry — you can ask any of them, from my sister [Dolly] on down — they had to dress in the bathroom [until building renovations in recent years]. The men [always] had dressing rooms, of course.”