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When Dolly Parton Met Queen Elizabeth II

Did you know the queen of country music once met the Queen of England?

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In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, tributes have poured in from celebrities and civilians alike. One tribute, posted on Instagram, came from a fellow queen: the queen of country music, Dolly Parton. On September 9, Parton wrote:

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“I had the honor of meeting and performing for Queen Elizabeth II on my trip to London in 1977. She carried herself with grace and strength her entire life. May she Rest in Peace. My thoughts and prayers are with her family at this time.”

The post includes a black-and-white photo of Parton with puppeteer Shari Lewis (holding her signature character, Lamb Chop), singer/actor David Soul, and Queen Elizabeth herself. Parton flashes a bright smile at the Queen, who in turn looks excited to be meeting the country legend. 

Why did Dolly Parton perform for the Queen?

Parton performed for the Queen as part of the Silver Jubilee, a major celebration marking 25 years since she’d been crowned. The Royal Variety Show at which Parton played was held at Glasgow’s King’s Theatre on May 16, 1977. The Jackson 5 also performed at the event, as did British comedian Frankie Howerd and Scottish singer Sydney Devine. It makes sense that Parton would represent the U.S. in the star-studded affair. Country roots run deep here, and Dolly’s distinctly American combination of optimism and gratitude makes her the perfect U.S. ambassador.

Which other musicians have performed for the Queen?

The great many musicians who’ve performed for the Queen is enough to make any music fan jealous. These artists include Paul McCartney (who was knighted by the Queen in 1997), Elton John (who was also knighted, in 1998), Lady Gaga, Eartha Kitt, and Judy Garland, among numerous others. Musicians who’ve received honorary titles from the Queen span genres and decades, and would make for a truly awesome music festival.

Is Dolly Parton’s performance for the Queen available to watch online?

Unfortunately, no — though you can watch some of the spectacle of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee below.

You can also get a taste of what Parton’s performance might have been like in this clip from a British TV show aired on May 27, 1977, not long after she performed for the Queen. 

More recently, Parton sent a short video message to the Queen on the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee, just a few months before her passing. The Jubilee marked 70 years since the Queen took the throne, and when you consider that Parton first met the Queen on the 25th anniversary of her coronation, the singer and the monarch really do go way back.

What did Dolly Parton have to say about her royal performance?

In an interview with the Glasgow Evening Times (and as reported by The Tennessean), learning of her impending royal performance was a total surprise to Parton; her manager didn’t tell her about it until she was already on her flight to the UK. When she found out what was happening, she was ecstatic. As she explained: 

“When they told me on the plane I was appearing in front of the Queen, I just jumped up and down telling everyone. It’s just one of the biggest thrills of my life. When I was a little girl I grew up in a world of kings and queens and princes and princesses in fairy tales. Now I was going to meet one.

That was a great moment, I thought… I’m not a star worshiper, but as a kid, I was always intrigued by the kings and queens, and I always loved the magazines and the books and their costumes and all. Of course, they weren’t like the old kings and queen of the old stories, but it still had that romantic feeling to me to think, ‘That’s the Queen of England.’”

The enormity of the moment was not lost on Parton. She’s a true American success story, born into poverty in rural Tennessee and cutting her own path as a beloved singer-songwriter. Her origins couldn’t be more different from the rarefied world of the Queen — but it’s inspiring to see how Parton’s talent and charm enabled her to represent American music at the Jubilee, and remain a bonafide pop culture icon 45 years later. We can’t help but wonder if the Queen looked at the country singer and thought, “That’s Dolly Parton!”

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