As far as anyone knows, Dolly Parton is mortal just like the rest of us, despite her seemingly boundless musical creativity and industrious hustle. Unlike most of the rest of us, however, she actually has a plan to preserve her musical legacy for all the generations yet to come.
In the final episode of WNYC’s hit podcast Dolly Parton’s America, co-producer Jad Abumrad catches Parton in a spiritual, reflective mood and poses questions to her about faith, the afterlife, and planning for the eventual end.
“I’ve got hundreds, hundreds, even thousands of songs — a big part of them have never even been recorded,” Parton tells Abumrad, around 21:45 in the episode. “There’s enough stuff to go on forever with my music, to do compilation albums, to do new and original stuff. I am purposely trying to put songs down for that very purpose, to have a click track and my vocals where any arrangement could be done.”
Without really going into details, Parton says she’d like for producers and songwriters of the future to be able to take her vocal tracks and overlay them with whatever kind of song they’re recording.
“Any producer anywhere in the world, when I’m gone, they could take my songs just the click track and my vocal and build a complete arrangement around that, any style. That will go on forever,” she says.
Parton, a legendarily hard worker and planner, says she didn’t want to be unprepared and have her life’s work become tied up in legal battles after she’s gone.
“I’m one of those people that believe in being prepared,” she says. “I don’t want to ever leave my stuff in the same shape like Prince or Aretha or anybody that don’t plan ahead.”
Premiering last October and spanning nine episodes, the podcast from WNYC Studios and Radiolab‘s Jad Abumrad examined the life, art, and cultural influence of one of country music’s most beloved figures and delved into what Parton’s life says about America. The final episode, “She’s Alive!”, explored the singer’s views on the afterlife.
“You don’t really know, you just hope, and you have faith. That’s what faith is,” Parton says. “I think it’s not the end of me. I don’t think it’s the end of any of us. I think we’re recycled and if nothing else we just go back into that great flow of divine energy and hopefully we spread ourselves around in other wonderful ways.”