Kindred spirits Shania Twain, Dolly Parton to share Nashville Friday

The Tennessean
By Beverly Keel
July 29, 2015

The usually unflappable Shania Twain found herself nervous at Mercury Nashville’s 2002 party for the release of her album “Up,” but it had nothing to do with the industry crowd. She was finally going to meet her idol, Dolly Parton.

“I've just had Dolly on the brain all night, to be honest,” Twain told me.

Meanwhile, Parton had been just as eager to greet a kindred spirit. “I'm on serious business to meet Shania!” she told me. “I love her music and what she stands for.”

Their meeting occurred in front of a group, but it didn’t distract the divas from hugging and holding each other’s flawlessly manicured hands in an intimate moment. When Twain began talking to Parton, the tears started — “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said — and she remained choked up even after Parton’s departure.

“I cried, of course … Dolly was fantastic,” Twain said.

The meeting of the two country icons was significant in country music history because it was a sharing of a flame, a crossroads of very different journeys and musical styles that overcame similar hurdles and embraced like-minded themes. The petite powerhouses had a relentless ambition and musical gift that propelled them from poverty to international acclaim.

So it’s only fitting that the two legends perform at sold-out shows about a block apart in downtown Nashville on Friday. Twain will take the stage at Bridgestone Arena for her “Rock This Country” tour, while Dolly Parton’s “Pure and Simple” tour stops Friday and Saturday at Ryman Auditorium.

“It’s going to be an amazing weekend of music in Nashville — one of the best nights of the year,” says Jason Owen, Twain’s manager. “I’ll be going to Shania on Friday and Dolly on Saturday. Two icons in one weekend! This is what I love about Nashville."

The Tennessean gallery - Shania Twain over the years

Without Parton, we might not know Twain.

“This is my hero, musical and personal hero of all time. A beautiful person inside and out and a person that I always wanted to grow up to be,” Twain said of Parton in 2011 on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" before joining her to sing “Coat of Many Colors.”

In turn Twain has been a hero to many young women, including Taylor Swift, who described Twain as “the reason I wanted to do this in the first place” and “the most impressive and independent and confident and successful female artist to ever hit country music.”

Like Twain, Swift was also moved to tears by meeting her idol.

Twain, who hails from Canada, and Parton, who was born in East Tennessee, have both written best-selling autobiographies that vividly described their rags-to-riches stories.

“Both women are survivors,” says Alanna Nash, music journalist and author of “Dolly: The Biography.” “They had times when their careers could have tanked, but they didn’t listen to others and followed their own instincts.”

Parton, 69, is the most-honored country female in history. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999, has garnered 25 No. 1 Billboard country hits, the most of any female artist, and has more than 40 top 10-selling albums.

Twain, 49, has won five Grammys and sold more than 85 million albums, making her the best-selling country female of all time. She is the only woman in music to have three consecutive albums certified diamond for sales of 10 million each.

At a time when the national spotlight has been placed on country music’s treatment of women, this weekend is a celebration of two females who never allowed the music industry or media to define them or their forward-thinking songs and career directions. Indeed, these beautiful women have always maintained absolute control over their powerfully feminine images — sometimes with tongues in flawless cheeks — in such a way that it minimized media objectification.

While their bodies launched a million conversations, they never diminished their reputations as being among their generation’s best entertainers and singer-songwriters.

Indeed, it is their bodies of work that are the reason for their continued ability to sell out shows in America and abroad. Parton’s songs such as “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors” and “I Will Always Love You” and Twain’s repertoire including “You’re Still the One,” “Any Man of Mine” and “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” have proven to have a timeless appeal.

While the two will put on much different shows this weekend, it is their common threads personally and professionally that make these women endure as entertainers who have left an indelible mark on country music.