When Dolly Parton Wrote a Song For Johnny Carson

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Dolly Parton serenading Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in 1979

On September 19, 1979, Dolly Parton was still a year away from topping the pop charts with “9 To 5,” the title song she wrote for the hit 1980 film in which she starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. The 33-year-old was a bonafide country star but was still a year away from the superstardom that the movie would bring her when it became 1980’s second-biggest film.

The beloved singer, actress and philanthropist, was born January 19, 1946, in “the hills of Tennessee.” By age 10, she was performing on local television and radio shows in nearby Knoxville. While in her early 20s, her country music career blossomed when Porter Wagoner began featuring her on his popular syndicated television show, attracting the attention of executives at RCA Records.

This ad appeared in the March 16, 1974 issue of Record World

She was a gifted songwriter and recording success soon followed. In the early ’70s, she scored four #1 country singles including “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You,” and was voted the Country Music Association Female Artist of the Year two years in a row. In 1978, she was named the CMA Entertainer of the Year, one of only five female artists to accomplish that feat.

Today, it seems like Parton has always been a superstar, but on this day in ’79, she was appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson – or “The Johnny Carson Show,” as she playfully called it – while in town for a brief residency at the Universal Amphitheatre.

The appearance took place during the affable host’s 17th season. Sure, there are plenty of references to Parton’s robust figure. “I know you’ve been trying to lose my weight,” the 53-year-old Carson observes. “I’m getting to do some movies,” she says, referring, presumably, to 9 To 5. “I always say that I weigh a 100 and plenty,” she says. “I’m saying now that I’ve lost the ‘plenty’.” At one point, flustered, she says, “I appreciate you keeping me hot.” She immediately recognizes her blunder and recovers with a self-deprecating laugh. The two naturals have an easy rapport during the nearly 15-minute segment.

Watch Parton’s delightful interview with the popular TV host and her performance of “The Johnny Carson Song.”

Parton’s list of awards is understandably long. In 1999, she was inducted as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. She has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and became a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2004, the Library of Congress presented her with their Living Legend Award for her contribution to the cultural heritage of the United States. This was followed in 2005 with the National Medal of Arts.

Related: In 2019, Parton was joined by her friends and singing partners Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

In 2006, Parton was honored by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In 2007 she was named the recipient of the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2011, Dolly received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She was among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022.

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  1. 122intheshade
    #1 122intheshade 20 September, 2023, 01:44

    I-40 is the perfect hwy to name “Dolly Parton”.

    And her “Johnny Carson” song beats the hell out of the Beach Boys “Joooohhnnnny Caaarrrson”.

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