The 50th annual CMA Awards on November 2nd were full of tributes that honored some of the biggest stars from the show's history. These culminated late in the night, when Dolly Parton was presented with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. To honor her, Pentatonix and Jennifer Nettles sang "Jolene," Reba McEntire sang "9 to 5" and Kacey Musgraves took "Here I Come Again" before Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride led a an ensemble performance of "I Will Always Love You."
In the audience, Parton was holding back tears. "I was trying not to mess up my makeup," she told the pressroom backstage. "When they were doing 'I Will Always Love You,' my whole life just kind of took a little twirl: back when I was working with Porter Wagoner when I first wrote that song and all the stuff that it meant; and the fact that I was sitting by Vince Gill and we recorded it as a duet; and it was just all of sudden, my whole life."
The Lifetime Achievement trophy has previously gone to Nelson, Kenny Rogers and Johnny Cash. "It makes me feel good to feel like I've done something to further this business," Parton said. "Of course you never know what you're gonna become or what you're gonna achieve when you start out. But the fact that all these young women and all these young stars say I've inspired them, it makes me feel real good. Makes me feel like I might have done something right along the way…. It makes me feel like I'm still part of things. It makes me proud."
In fact, McEntire was so excited to be performing in front of Parton that she missed the opening lines of "9 to 5." But Parton could empathize. "I'm always missing that song," she said. "Reba ain't the only one – and I wrote it!"
After the tribute, Parton accepted the award with a joke about Willie Nelson but had to leave the stage before she could deliver the rest of her remarks. "I had a whole big speech on the teleprompter!" she said. "They said we were running short, and I said, 'Well I'm always running short! If I'm running at all, I'm short.' But anyhow, I just had a lot of people I was gonna thank and I just had a few little corny jokes. I said what I need to say, and I understand time and shows and you can't have time for everything. It wasn't all about me. It was just a moment of mine and I appreciate it."
Still, Parton clarified, this award is far from being an indication she's finished making music. "I hope they don't think because they gave me a lifetime achievement award they thought I was done," she said. "No way that's gonna happen."