How Dolly Parton continues to honor her late parents with Dollywood, charity work

·4 min read

For Dolly Parton, family is everything.

That's why she -- even as a massively popular country music superstar -- views the folks that work at Dollywood as members of her family, not just employees.

"People always brag about the staff here at Dollywood," Parton, 75, told "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts on Wednesday, live from the iconic theme park located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

"This is our 36th season, by the way. We've got all kinds of people that have been here from the very start," the "Jolene" singer said. "We're partners. That's the way I am with my band. We're just all partners here. It takes us all to make it work."

The Dollywood staff came together to weather the COVID-19 pandemic after having to close down on short notice last March, before returning to work when the theme park reopened on a limited basis and continue to adapt as restrictions have been lifting.

MORE: Dolly Parton gets COVID-19 vaccine she helped fund with her $1 million donation

"I think it's amazing how our crew has done all the things that they've done," she added. "The people here are like family, so any time you have a crisis of any kind you just kind of pull together and get it done."

"We're not out of it yet, but I can feel a new energy," the 10-time Grammy winner said, adding that it feels like coming home. "We've got a lot of things to be thankful for."

The theme park is currently having its annual Flower & Food Festival, happening this year from April 23 to June 7. According to the Dollywood website, there are more than 500,000 flowers across the park -- including a series of flower sculptures.

MORE: Dolly Parton shares a taste of Dollywood Flower and Food Festival menu

The centerpiece of these flower sculptures is the Coat of Many Colors, featuring a representation of Parton's late mother, Avie Lee, sewing together the article of clothing made famous in the singer's 1971 song "Coat of Many Colors."

"I was real emotional and took a lot of pictures," Parton said of the first time she saw this flower sculpture in particular. "I had seen the brochures of it and knew what it was supposed to be, but just seeing that whole thing ... and just having that big thing there that represents who I am as a person, who my parents were, and the kind of mother I was lucky enough to have."

"That little coat has carried me so far, it's kind of like a little signature thing," she continued. "My life has been a life of many colors, not just the coat. It's very significant to me, but just seeing that whole thing with mom sewing that just made me grateful."

Watch Dolly Parton perform "Coat of Many Colors," dedicated to "all the mommas out there," live on "GMA":

Parton said her time during the COVID-19 pandemic was spent being productive. Aside from seeing family as much as possible, the "9 to 5" singer was busy donating money to help fund the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, creating new songs and generally "trying to lift people up and be spirited."

One way Parton did that was by reading to children on social media via her literary nonprofit, Imagination Library. To date, the organization has donated more than 150 million books to children around the world.

"If you can read, you can self-educate yourself, and you're just lost if you can't," Parton said, noting that many of her relatives -- and even her late father, Robert Lee -- couldn't read or write, inspiring her to start the Imagination Library in 1995, first locally and later expanding to the entire U.S. and beyond.

"I just think it's important for children to learn to read in the early years, to learn to love books and all that, so I'm just so proud to have been a part of anything that's good and that's making life a little better for people," she explained.

Parton said her dad took "great pride" in living long enough to see the Imagination Library accomplish big things and "got such a kick" out of people calling her "the book lady."

How Dolly Parton continues to honor her late parents with Dollywood, charity work originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting