Dolly Parton on Why She Started Making Christian Music: 'We Need to Believe in Something Bigger'
"People look at me like a mother or sister. If I say something good, people might listen," Dolly Parton says in this week's issue of PEOPLE
After all these years, Dolly Parton is still achieving new dreams.
On Wednesday, it was revealed that the country legend, 73, has been nominated at the upcoming 2020 Grammy Awards for her recent work in the Christian music genre. Parton is up for best contemporary Christian music performance/song for her collaboration with for King & Country on the single, “God Only Knows,” as well as best song written for visual media for her track “Girl in the Movies” from the Dumplin’ soundtrack.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, the star opens up about her decision to start making Christian music.
“I’ve done so many things,” Parton says. “And I see that I am in a position to help. People look at me like someone they’ve always known, like a mother or sister. If I say something good, people might listen.”
“I’ve just felt like God was calling me into that,” she adds. “I’ve always felt like my music was more my ministry than a job. I just feel that this day and time, we need more people that are in a position to help to try to do something, if they can, to brighten the world a little bit. That’s what I’m hoping to do now.”
Along with her for King & Country collaboration, Parton has also released two other faith-centric singles in the past several months, including “There Was Jesus” with Christian rock singer Zach Williams and “Faith” with DJ duo Galantis. The latter, she says, “came to me out of the heavens.”
“[Galantis] sent the song to see if I’d be interested, and I just loved it,” she says. “So I did it. Now it’s out and people are really responding to it. It’s more of a dance song, as you know. But it’s a very spiritual message. It’s like God saying, ‘Have a little faith in me.’ So I was proud to be part of that whole thing.”
“I felt really blessed because I had decided just in the last few months that I was going to try to do more faith-based things or at least more uplifting music,” she continues. “Then right out of the blue came King and Country and their ‘God Only Knows.’ And then the Zach Williams song, ‘There Was Jesus.’ All three of those just came and I went, ‘Well, that must be an answer.’ I’ve got three faith-based songs out now, which I feel very good about. Whether you believe in God or not, we need to believe in something bigger and better than what’s going on because we’re not doing too hot. We need to try to do a little better.”
Though Parton says she “grew up very spiritual,” she quickly makes clear that she’s not out there with the intention of “preaching religion.”
“I’m not trying to tell anybody how to be,” she says. “I just say who I am and how I am. If there’s something you see in me that’s got a light, then I like to think that’s God’s light — not my light. In my faith, it bothers me sometimes when I see people worshiping the stars and all that. I’m like, ‘Oh Lord, don’t ever let me go there.’ That’s why I want to ship that on up to God. I don’t need nobody worshiping me. If I do shine and radiate, I’d like to think that is God’s light and I’d like to pass that on. I want to direct people to Him, not me.”
On top of being nominated for two more Grammys, Parton will soon see another dream come to fruition: the premiere of her new Netflix anthology series, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings. The series showcases the stories, memories and inspiration behind some of Parton’s most beloved songs, including “Jolene,” “Two Doors Down,” “These Old Bones” and “J.J. Sneed.”
“It’s like a dream come true,” she says. “This was a really big dream of mine because I’ve been writing all my life. My songwriting means more to me than anything else I do. So to see my songs come to life like this and see them on screen in any form is great. This was a dream, and now I’m here living it.”
Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings will be available for streaming on Netflix on Nov. 22.
For more on Dolly Parton’s life now, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.