Reviews for She Come by it Natural

Library Journal
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In early April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic gained steam, country singer Dolly Parton donated one million dollars to Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) to support coronavirus research. It wasn't her first gift to VUMC, and it was far from the first time she'd donated funds to a cause she deemed important. Yet a moderately viral Tweet declared, "It sounds like a gag." As Smarsh (Heartland) makes clear, such reactions to Parton's generosity aren't uncommon—as are similar responses to her music, her brand, and, in particular, her physical appearance. Despite that, Parton's decades-long career boasts an impressive talent, a strategic business acumen, and a large and diverse fan base, many of whom would otherwise claim to dislike country music. That kind of popularity is rare, especially for a musical genre frequently treated with derision. Part memoir, part tribute, the book is less about Parton's music than her identity and how she has embraced and uplifted it to the inspiration of many. Smarsh's insightful reflections on her experiences growing up in poverty on a Kansas farm are a springboard to discuss feminism, gender, sexuality, class, and race from an angle that is often ignored. VERDICT A thoughtful musing on the significance of Parton's work and success, and those she inspires.—Genevieve Williams, Pacific Lutheran Univ. Lib., Tacoma


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A journalist and bestselling author pays tribute to country music legend Dolly Parton (b. 1946). Before her recent elevation to the status of universally beloved icon,” writes Smarsh, Parton “was best known by many people as the punch line of a boob joke.” This book, based on essays the author wrote for No Depression magazine in 2017, explores Parton's musical and cultural contributions. It also tells stories about the women so often at the heart of Parton's songs. Bent on becoming a star, she left for Nashville after high school. But she faced many challenges as an attractive woman working her way to the top. Parton's breakthrough song, “Dumb Blonde,” released in 1967, foretold the attitude a largely sexist country music industry took toward the singer, especially in the early part of her career. Her first industry mentor, Porter Wagoner, for example, recognized Parton's musical talent, but he tried to use it to serve his own “thunderous ego.” The quick-witted grit that helped her endure would later come out in the characters she played in hit Hollywood films like 9 to 5 (1980). Smarsh argues that this "humorous bravado" arises not just from Parton herself, but from the "culture of working-class women" she represents. The singer’s savvy is also as much sexual as entrepreneurial. The author shows how Parton used both to reach success—and not just in music: She has said that Dollywood is “the most lucrative investment she ever made.” Her influence is now so pervasive that she has become a cross-genre inspiration to young artists like hip-hop star Nicki Minaj. Though not a self-identified feminist, Parton exemplifies the "unsurpassed wisdom about how gender works in the world" that Smarsh believes is part of the working-class female experience. A highly readable treat for music and feminist scholars as well as Parton's legion of fans. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Publishers Weekly
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In this affectionate and astute cultural study, Smarsh (Heartland) shines a light on Dolly Parton’s struggles and path to becoming the queen of country music. Smarsh narrates Parton’s life: born in 1946 the fourth of 12 siblings on a small farm in east Tennessee, Parton weathered poverty and her parents’ divorce through her deep love of music and her desire to be a star. She left on a bus for Nashville when she was 18 with three paper grocery bags of her belongings; over the course of three years, Parton made a small name for herself through gigs as a backup singer and on morning radio shows. She scored her first top 10 hit in 1967 with “Dumb Blonde,” a song whose theme of a woman being smarter than a man who underestimates her characterizes much of her later music. It’s a sharp narrative (originally published as a four-part serial in the music magazine, No Depression) as Smarsh illustrates that even when Parton conquered the man’s world in the mid-1980s, she was still treated as less capable than men in the industry. So she created her own world: she opened her Dollywood theme park in 1986; started her own publishing company in 1993; and founded Imagination Library in 1990, which donates books to children. Smarsh’s luminescent prose and briskly tempered storytelling make for an illuminating take on a one-of-a-kind artist. (Oct.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A journalist and bestselling author pays tribute to country music legend Dolly Parton (b. 1946).Before her recent elevation to the status of universally beloved icon, writes Smarsh, Parton was best known by many people as the punch line of a boob joke. This book, based on essays the author wrote for No Depression magazine in 2017, explores Parton's musical and cultural contributions. It also tells stories about the women so often at the heart of Parton's songs. Bent on becoming a star, she left for Nashville after high school. But she faced many challenges as an attractive woman working her way to the top. Parton's breakthrough song, Dumb Blonde, released in 1967, foretold the attitude a largely sexist country music industry took toward the singer, especially in the early part of her career. Her first industry mentor, Porter Wagoner, for example, recognized Parton's musical talent, but he tried to use it to serve his own thunderous ego. The quick-witted grit that helped her endure would later come out in the characters she played in hit Hollywood films like 9 to 5 (1980). Smarsh argues that this "humorous bravado" arises not just from Parton herself, but from the "culture of working-class women" she represents. The singers savvy is also as much sexual as entrepreneurial. The author shows how Parton used both to reach successand not just in music: She has said that Dollywood is the most lucrative investment she ever made. Her influence is now so pervasive that she has become a cross-genre inspiration to young artists like hip-hop star Nicki Minaj. Though not a self-identified feminist, Parton exemplifies the "unsurpassed wisdom about how gender works in the world" that Smarsh believes is part of the working-class female experience.A highly readable treat for music and feminist scholars as well as Parton's legion of fans. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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