NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Country music icon Dolly Parton's home and businesses in East Tennessee were spared from deadly wildfires last month, but she's pitching in to help her neighbors recover from the devastation.
She was to headline a telethon Tuesday from Nashville, featuring performances from Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, Hank Williams Jr., Chris Stapleton, Cyndi Lauper and more. The telethon was to be broadcast on Great American Country, AXS-TV, RFD and The Heartland Network at 8 p.m. Eastern and streamed live on USAToday.com and affiliate newspapers in Tennessee.
Parton set a lofty goal of giving $1,000 to every family that has lost their primary residence through the Dollywood Foundation My People Fund.
"It doesn't sound like a lot of money but we're talking about thousands of people, hundreds and hundreds of people," Parton said Tuesday. "If we could give $1,000 a month for six months, that would give people a chance. And if we raise more money than we hope to, then we'll just do more."
This Christmas, she'll return home to East Tennessee to see the damage from the fires that spread to more than 2,500 structures in Sevier County and killed 14 people.
"I'll get to have Christmas with my family in those warm cozy houses, but we know that there are so many this time of year that are not going to get to have Christmas in a warm cozy house because they are gone," Parton said. "So that's why it is so important that we do what we can. But I am sure I will be devastated when I see some of the stuff."
Her famous friends stepped up to help before the telethon even began, with large donations from Kenny Chesney, Taylor Swift, the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.
Parton said she feels a kinship to all the hard-working mountain people who have lost so much around her.
"We are mountain tough," Parton said. "They have to be tough. You have to be physically tough, you have to be emotionally tough, and you have to be strong. People have to scrape their living out of the soil in a lot of ways."
She added: "That's why it is so important because all of these people, even though they are not blood kin, they really do feel like my people."