Dolly Parton received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2016 CMA Awards ceremony. The honor was presented to Parton by her longtime friend Lily Tomlin, who co-starred with the icon in the movie 9 to 5.
“Dolly is country music,” Tomlin said from stage, later adding, “Dolly helped build Nashville … [and] is a force of nature, and one of the greatest artists in the history of country music.”
Prior to Parton accepting the award, multiple artists performed covers of her hits in tribute. The medley started with Jennifer Nettles — who starred in Parton’s Coat of Many Colors TV movie — and Pentatonix performing “Jolene.” The a cappella backdrop was the perfect foundation for Nettles’ powerful voice, as she gave her all to the tenacious tune.
Parton, who was sitting next to Vince Gill in the audience, nodded in approval throughout the tribute. She also sang along to the second performance, “9 to 5,” sung by Reba McEntire, who was sporting a long shimmering blue dress. The pairing was perfect, as McEntire — who looked like she was having a blast — added the requisite sass and aspirational tone to the song.
Kacey Musgraves then strode onstage to perform “Here You Come Again,” taking a delicate stab at the indelible ballad. This led into Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride entering to perform “I Will Always Love You,” which moved Parton to tears; Nettles, McEntire and Musgraves joined to sing the song, which ended not with a giant flourish, but pinpoint five-part harmonies. McEntire concluded the tune, and gestured to Parton to show just how much people love her.
The legend herself, wearing an eye-popping yellow dress, then came onstage to make a speech.
“Thanks to all these beautiful girlfriends of mine,” she said generously. “I would’ve cried, but I didn’t want to mess up my eyelashes; I was doing my best.”
After calling the award “such a great compliment,” Parton unleashed the zinger of the night: “For me to be receiving the Willie Nelson award, this is an absolute ‘high’ for me,” she said with a laugh and air quotes. “For Willie to have a high achievement award — I mean, how appropriate is that? He’s had some highs that border on historic, I can tell you that.”
Parton referenced needing to hurry up, as the awards show was running over its timeframe, but said, “You’re talking about a lifetime here, all right?” Parton also complimented Nettles, who was standing behind her and promptly started crying, and thanked “all my fans and everybody for allowing me to see my little girl dreams come true.”
After shouting out some of the notable people in her life, Parton revealed, “I had a big speech, but they won’t let me give it — so thank you so much for this wonderful award, and have a wonderful evening.”
The Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award was established in 2012 and recognizes “an iconic artist who has attained the highest degree of recognition in country music [and] who has achieved both national and international prominence and stature through concert performances, humanitarian efforts, philanthropy, record sales and public representation at the highest level.” Past recipients include Willie Nelson (2012), Kenny Rogers (2013) and Johnny Cash (2015).
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Dolly Parton’s CMA Lifetime Achievement Award Presented With Tribute [WATCH] – The Boot