Flashback: Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton Bring Hair and Harmony to Johnny Cash Show

This 1983 primetime performance spotlights two country stars on a stage full of children

Something to be thankful for this (and every) Thanksgiving: that country music gave us musicians like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. A bonus? The time those two icons performed together for a 1983 TV special that also featured Kris Kristofferson and Brenda Lee, both of whom had appeared alongside Parton and Nelson on a 1982 double album called The Winning Hand. Coincidentally, Johnny Cash — who wrote the liner notes for The Winning Hand — also hosted the syndicated TV event. 

In the mid Sixties, Parton, Nelson, Kristofferson and Lee were all signed to Monument Records in Nashville, a label whose roster (at one time or another) also included Roy Orbison, Connie Smith, Jeannie Seely and Ray Stevens. In 1982, with Parton and Nelson at the height of their popularity, the label released a collection that included previously unreleased songs by the two songwriters, as well as songs by Lee and Kristofferson. Many of those songs were edited together to create duets for the artists, including two by Willie and Dolly: "Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby" and "Everything's Beautiful (In Its Own Way)." In spite of the similar title, the latter tune was not a cover of the 1970 hit by Ray Stevens, "Everything Is Beautiful," but rather an unreleased tune Parton had written and recorded for Monument around 1967.

In the above clip, Parton (with a whole lot of hair piled on her head) is dressed in an off-the-shoulder top and long denim shirt. She holds hands with a small boy as they walk onto the set, where children are painting with watercolors. Meanwhile, Nelson – pre-pigtails – strolls onto the set during the second half of the verse, holding the hand of a little girl. He's also decked out in denim, with his signature red bandanna around his head (and a blue one around his neck). There's even a patented Dolly ad-lib at the end of the performance, which marked the very first time the two musicians had actually sung "Everything's Beautiful (In Its Own Way)" together. 

"Everything's Beautiful (In Its Own Way)" marked Parton's first chart duet with someone other than Porter Wagoner. The tune was a Top Ten country hit in 1982, and The Winning Hand reached the Top Five on the album chart. Monument Records was later revived by Sony Music in the late Nineties and was home to the Dixie Chicks, among other country acts.