Helping Sevier County residents rebuild and recover from the recent devastating wildfires is "personal" for Dolly Parton.
"These are my people, these are my neighbors, these are people I grew up with," the Sevier County native said in a question and answer video released by the Dollywood Foundation ahead of Tuesday's telethon to benefit the My People Fund, which provides assistance for Sevier County residents who lost their homes in the fires.
The country superstar is joining with several of her closest friends for the three-hour live telethon Tuesday night. Performers include Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton, Amy Grant and many more.
"Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund" will air live on Great American Country, and will also air live on WBIR.com, the WBIR Facebook page, 10News2 and FOX43 WTNZ from 8 to 11 p.m. Tuesday.
Dolly spoke about her motivations to help "her" people ahead of Tuesday's telethon.
Q: Why is it 'personal' for you to help all of the people affected by the wildfires?
Dolly: "It’s personal for me to help the people from the wildfires because that’s my home, these are my people, these are my neighbors, these are people I grew up with. Their businesses, their homes, I mean this is part of my life. They may not be blood kin, but they’re still my people.”
Q: In all of your years growing up there, could you have ever imagined anything like this happening?
Dolly: "In all of my life I would have never imagined anything like this happening to our beautiful Smoky Mountains. Of we’d get some campfires that kind of get out of control now and then – that’s why we have Smokey Bear. And we’ve had a few little things happen ... but not like this. This is the most devastating thing that we’ve all experienced.”
Q: What is the ultimate goal or benchmark you’re trying to reach with the telethon?
Dolly: "The ultimate goal is to raise the money that we need to really help these people rebuild and get back to life as normal, so that’s why we’re doing telethons and have so many of my friends that are making major donations. I, of course, am trying to do my part in every way that I can so it’s just going to take everybody and we’ve had so many generous hearts to offer it up because the Great Smoky Mountains is a beautiful place and we need to have it back in order. It’s home."
Q: Talk about the personal sense of responsibility you have to take action.
Dolly: "It’s my personal responsibility because I’m in a position to help. I think any time that you’re in a position to help, you should. And these are my people, this is my home and this is where I make a living. Dollywood has been so good to me, so I’m not one of those artists that just thinks it’s all about getting. I want to give back. And I always try to do that through the Dollywood Foundation, and so this, when this came up with these wildfires, I mean we ran to really get a chance to try to help everybody that we could. But it is my personal responsibility because it’s home, it’s family."
Q: Take us back to the night this happened… what was going through your mind? Were you in disbelief? How were you processing what you were seeing and hearing as it unfolded?
Dolly: "Well I was out on the road working when I heard about this. And of course I ran immediately into my dressing room to turn on the TV to see if it was really true because people were saying ‘Oh my God, you know the mountains are burning.’ And I said ‘Oh that can’t be, not to that degree.’ And sure enough, I mean, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen because at that time, I didn’t know if my own blood kin were engulfed in the flames. I didn’t really know if our, our business is there, I didn’t know to what extent. And on TV, it looked like the world was on fire, and I was absolutely going to pieces like we all did. Everybody on the phone trying to reach everybody … And it took hours and hours for us to really know for sure that our own family was OK, and that most of our properties, we were blessed and thank God for it that most of our businesses were okay and our families were okay, but just knowing that all of the devastation, places that I knew, that I’d been to as a child in Gatlinburg, which I love Gatlinburg, and some of the places that just went up in flames, it just broke my heart. It’s really, it’s just like a major death of something very personal, just like if someone very close to you is burned or died. So it was devastating to me."
Q: We’ve heard the term ‘mountain tough’ -- you’re from there… explain what that means to someone who doesn’t live there. These are very tough people right?
Dolly: "Well there is the term ‘mountain tough,’ and I think you really have to be tough to just do what we do in the Smoky Mountains the way I grew up, the way I saw my daddy work, all my people work the land. And you just kind of have to strengthen up and be tough in spirit and you gotta be tough physically, mentally and emotionally. You can be sensitive, but you gotta kind of know, you’re going to have a lot of things come against you. And I think all those things that make all those mountain parents good parents and eek a living out of the land like we do, I think when a crisis like this happens, it really shows who these people really are. They do toughen up and they just come to the rescue, and we’re going to get back in order just because we are that kind of people."