Lily Tomlin, the music legend’s former costar, presented the award to Parton.
“I go way back with the great Dolly Parton,” Tomlin, 77, said. “While we were working on 9 to 5, she was working 24/7 on becoming one of America’s best singer-songwriters. Dolly is country music, pure and simple.”
Nettles, 42, tweeted about her excitement before taking the stage, posting a slow-motion video of herself in a silver flapper-like dress.
“When you are about to sing for @DollyParton !!!!” she tweeted.
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Reba McEntire sang “9 to 5,” with a few errors along the way, but all was well when she joined Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Kacey Musgraves and Nettles in singing Parton’s classic “I Will Always Love You.”
Parton, 70, won her first CMA Award in 1968, when the ceremony was just a year old. After 10 CMA Awards, the singer and songwriter returned as one of the most honored female country performers of all time.
“Wow, what a tribute. I would’ve cried but I didn’t want to mess up my eyelashes,” Parton joked when she walked on stage to receive her award.
“This is such a great compliment. For me to be receiving the Willie Nelson lifetime achievement award, this is an absolute… high, for me!” she quipped, adding, “I just want to thank all my fans and everybody for allowing me to see my little girl dreams come true.”
Parton ended her speech sooner than planned due to the show running over its scheduled end time. “I really am very proud to receive this, but of course they ask me to hurry it up, they’re behind,” she said to the displeasure of some fans, who audibly voiced their disgruntlement over her early exit. “But we’re talking about a lifetime, here.”
She later added in the press room, “I had a whole big speech on the teleprompter. I had a bunch of people I wanted to thank… but it’s not all about me. I hope they don’t think because they gave me a lifetime achievement award that I’m done!”
- Reporting by EILEEN FINAN