When I was 16 years old, Dolly Parton taught me how to sing harmony.
Not in person, of course (I wish!). I had been playing the piano since I was six years old and had always sung a little bit here and there. By my teen years, I was starting to take my singing more seriously and wanted to be able to throw in a nice harmony vocal when I was performing with others.
I had loved Dolly since I was a very young child and we had many of her albums in our home. We usually picked up her new releases when they released, and in 1987 I used some of my work-money to buy her latest, the Trio album (which she recorded with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris). From the first spin of the record I was transfixed by three beautiful voices weaving around each other in gorgeous three-part harmony! I then dug in and began to listen intently to Dolly’s voice, noting when she was singing the lead, a harmony above, or a part below. After learning her parts, I did the same with Ronstadt’s and Harris’ vocals. It was some of the best musical education I’d ever received, and when I headed off to Belmont University the next year to study music, I was already well prepared for singing leads or harmonies.
I was excited and terrified to leave home and move to Nashville to pursue my dream of music. I was the first in my immediate family to go to college and was one of the first in my entire extended family to move away from home. I didn’t know a soul in Music City. As I looked out the back window of our car and saw my home and city receding into the distance, I could feel tears well up and fear start to fill my heart.
I said a little prayer to God, and then a little while later I thought of Dolly (I believe the Lord gently brought her to my mind). She had also left her home and everyone she knew at age eighteen to move to Nashville and pursue her dream of music, and how that worked out! The more I thought about her story, I could feel excitement take over, squeezing out the fear I had been feeling. I figured with a lot of hard work, and trusting and following God’s lead, things might just work out for me, too.
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