Should Dolly Parton (and country music) be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is expected to announce its Class of 2022 in early May. Upstream, this series examines the arguments for and against each candidate. For more profiles, click HERE.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Only one country artist has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in its “Performers” category. His name is Johnny Cash. But that could change in a matter of weeks.
Dolly Parton is among the nominees for the Rock Hall Class of 2022. When the ballot was announced in February, it seemed likely that Parton – one of the most beloved musical artists in history – would win the induction. However, Parton complicated matters when she publicly withdrew her nomination after the ballot.
Parton remains on the ballot (because you can’t actually withdraw your nomination). The drama over whether she will win the induction is one thing. The debate over whether a country artist (not named Johnny Cash) deserves to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is another.
The case for…
If you subscribe to the idea that a pure country artist deserves consideration for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Dolly Parton is a no-brainer. She’s a music icon who’s tied for the most No. 1 country songs in history for a female artist (along with Reba McEntire). Parton has won 11 Grammy Awards (with 50 nominations) and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
She is widely regarded as one of the five greatest country artists of all time. But Parton’s impact isn’t limited to gender. Before artists like Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Taylor Swift achieved crossover success, Parton was doing it in a variety of mediums.
Outside of country music, Parton has had success in pop, bluegrass, and Christian music. Her legendary hit “9 to 5” has become a feminist anthem for equal pay in the entertainment industry. She has been nominated for at least one Grammy Award, Tony Award, Academy Award, and Emmy Award throughout her career.
The list of artists who have been influenced by Parton also extends beyond the country. Everyone from Whitney Houston (who covered Parton’s famous song “I Will Always Love You”) and Anne Wilson to Miley Cyrus and Norah Jones have cited Parton as an inspiration.
The case against…
Even people who despise country music aren’t going to deny Parton’s long list of accomplishments. The question is whether a country artist, no matter how iconic, should be present at the Rock Hall.
This is a debate used against hip hop for years. But the two genders are different. Hip hop is a clear descendant of funk, blues, jazz, and other genres that were essential to the development and evolution of rock and roll.
Country music predates rock and roll, which is why artists like Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Bob Wills were inducted into the “Early Influences” category. Johnny Cash presents a very unique case considering his work with Sun Records and his influence on Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty and other legends.
The best comparison between country music and rock hall is jazz, another genre that predates rock and roll but influenced its development. Miles Davis is the only jazz artist to be inducted in the “Performers” category thanks to his impact on his transition to rock and roll in the music industry in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Parton’s induction would be groundbreaking for the museum, making her the first “modern” country star who enjoyed most of her post-1960s success to be inducted. It could open the door to Rock Hall to consider everyone from Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard to Garth Brooks and Shania Twain.
Rock purists have praised Dolly Parton for “withdrawing” her nomination, showing which side of the fence they stand on. But if you think the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should consider country artists as viable candidates, Parton should waltz.
Of course, this could all become a more complex discussion when Taylor Swift is inducted in 2032. But at least we have another decade to think about it.