Even as 2020’s tumult shrouded all facets of everyday life, Dolly Parton and her signature effervescence shone bright.
This fall, the country superstar unveiled a holiday album, “A Holly Dolly Christmas,” followed by a Netflix movie musical, “Christmas on the Square.” A new book, “Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics,” shot to the top of countless Christmas lists upon its release last month. At the same time, she’s stayed active on the humanitarian front, donating $1 million toward COVID-19 vaccine research.
Despite her myriad accomplishments and accolades, Parton hasn’t lost sight of how she got here. In a new interview with Apple Music Country’s “Proud Radio,” she spoke at length about Sandy Gallin, her longtime friend and former manager who helped guide her career starting in the mid-1970s.
“Sandy and I just clicked like nobody’s business,” Parton told host Hunter Kelly. “He was like my best gay bud. ... We [went to] Studio 54. We’d sit on the couch and watch all the craziness. But we were all involved in the fun of it, and it was great.”
Listen to a snippet of Parton’s interview with “Proud Radio” below.
“I really owe him so much,” Parton added of Gallin, who died in 2017 at age 76.
Elsewhere in the interview, Parton spoke about the impetus for releasing “A Holly Dolly Christmas,” which features duets with Michael Bublé and Miley Cyrus, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I wanted to talk to people, so it would feel like I was there in their house with them this Christmas ... kind of like being a friend or a family member,” she said. “We want to be happy and joyful around Christmas, so this was the perfect time for it.”
Kelly, who is based in Nashville, Tennessee, launched “Proud Radio” this fall. The show gives the Alabama-born journalist the opportunity to explore LGBTQ representation in country music, which is still seen as a conservative genre compared to pop, rock and R&B.
“My hope is that the gatekeepers at Nashville record labels, management companies and publishing companies will see and hear these artists and give them a shot,” Kelly told HuffPost. “I’ve built a lot of relationships in mainstream country music over the course of my career, and I hope to use whatever influence I have to shine a light on these deserving artists.”
In recent years, country music has made a number of visible strides toward LGBTQ inclusivity. Artists like Chely Wright, Ty Herndon and Brandon Stansell have tackled queer themes in their most recent work. Orville Peck, who is gay, won near-unanimous praise for his 2019 debut album, “Pony,” and teamed up with Shania Twain for the dreamy duet “Legends Never Die” this summer.
In interviewing Parton, Kelly said he sought to showcase the work of a music icon who is “spending [her] cultural capital on messages of inclusion.”
“Dolly is the model for us all when it comes to demonstration inclusion and acceptance,” he said. “If someone gets upset with Dolly for saying ‘Black lives matter’ or singing a song about transgender rights, it’s not going to last long. ... As a queer kid in Alabama who loved country music, those moments made a huge impression on me.”
Parton’s full “Proud Radio” interview airs Sunday, Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. EST on Apple Music Country.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.