Christmas came early this year to Tennessee's Smoky Mountains. Well before Thanksgiving, singer Dolly Parton kicked off the Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival at her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
During an appearance on CBS This Morning, at the request of Co-Anchors Thalia Assuras and Mark McEwen, Parton sang a snippet of I'll Be There With Bells On, a holiday tune that she performed during the tree-lighting ceremony at Dollywood.
"We're having a wonderful time here [at Dollywood]," Parton says. "We have a lot of things planned."
Among Parton's holiday projects is a food drive, in which visitors are invited to bring nonperishable goods to Dollywood, which matches all contributions.
"I grew up in a very poor family," Parton explains. "We were rich in love and values and all the things that are supposed to matter. I remember as a child, when the county used to send food baskets around to those of us less fortunateÂ… I remember how great that was, and how it made Christmas for us.
"I want to be able to give back, because I've been so fortunate," she concludes. "Once you're in a position to help, you do what you can. You can never do enough, but at least you can do something."
She grew up one of 12 children on a run-down farm in Locust Ridge, Tennessee. Upon graduating from high school, she moved to Nashville to launch a career as a country singer. Her first hit record, in 1967, was a song titled Dumb Blonde.
Parton credits her faith in God for bringing her from poverty to fame and fortune.
"I was proud of who I was. I'm proud of who I am," she says. "I thank God for that, because I think that's what has kept me sane in a world that gets pretty crazy … I believe God is here, and I lean on Him all the time. It's kept me strong."
Dollywood is decorated with 12 million Christmas lights. Next year, the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame will open at the theme park, and there's even a new roller coaster ride.
What is Parton herself looking forward to this holiday season?
"I'm looking forward to being with family, eating good food, getting fat, and going on a diet the first of the year," she says.
Parton's latest album, Hungry Again, was released in August. It is composed entirely of songs that Parton wrote. But the music of country music veterans like Parton does not get the radio time that younger performers enjoy. McEwen, observing that Parton, Willie Nelson, and George Jones are among performers who uilt country music into a mainstream business, asked her about it.
"Well, we are the ones that kind of helped build it," she replies. "But I guess, to answer your question, we're old. And life goes on. It's called progress. We're not resentful toward the new artists. It's wonderful they are doing great. But we still believe we're still as good as we ever was, if we ever was good. We still want to be played. But it's just a different time. I understand it, but I don't accept it."
Age means little to her personally, says Parton, who is 52.
"Lucky for me, you never can tell how old I am," she explains. "I've looked the same wayÂ…all my life. When you're a cartoon, you look the same age. Age doesn't matter to me... If I see something bagging, sagging, or dragging, I fix it."
Parton also has dabbled in movies. Her debut on the big screen came in 1980 with 9 to 5, costarring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. The singer also starred in Straight Talk (1992), Steel Magnolias (1989), Rhinestone (1984), and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982).