Dolly Parton marked the release of her first children’s album “I Believe In You” on Friday with a trip to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt – and a donation to the facility of $1 million.
“It’s so important to take care of children whether they’re sick or whether they’re well, especially when they are not feeling good,” Parton told a group of patients and parents assembled outside of the hospital’s Seacrest Studios.
The children, some of which were bald from cancer treatments, were wearing butterfly wings as Parton did on her “I Believe In You” album cover. They listened intently as the singer introduced her 28-year-old niece Hannah Dennison, who was treated for leukemia at the hospital as a child, and her mother Rachel Dennison. Parton said the generous donation was in their honor.
“That’s something that will help a little bit,” Parton said as the audience cheered. “This ain’t about me, it’s about them.”
Parton’s “I Believe In You” was released digitally Sept. 29 and is available in stores worldwide now. The Country Music Hall of Famer wrote every song on the album, which is her first collection of children’s songs in her 50-year career. Her niece’s battle with leukemia inspired Parton to write the songs “Chemo Hero” and “Brave Little Soldier,” that are the last two songs on the album.
“We know that not only are the kids chemo heroes, but the parents are, too,” Parton said, explaining her sister Rachel and Rachel’s husband Richard Dennison were at the hospital constantly for four years while Hannah was receiving care.
“We were exhausted and we were frightened,” recalled Rachel Dennison of her time spent in the hospital with her daughter. “But we had such good care. The doctors and nurses took us step-by-step what was going to happen, when and what to do.”
Before the event, during which Parton sang along with “Chemo Hero” and other songs from her album, she visited some of the hospital’s sickest patients. And while proceeds from “I Believe in You” will benefit her Imagination Library, she said monies from “Chemo Hero” would be given to the medical field to fund care and research.
Parton said that she is able to donate the proceeds from her “I Believe In You” to Imagination Library is among her proudest accomplishments. Imagination Library ships about 1 million age appropriate books a month to children in four countries. Inspired to create Imagination Library by her beloved father who couldn’t read, Parton founded the organization in 1996 and has since given away almost 100 million books.
Parton has written children’s songs for years – sometimes inspired by the books she gives away through thought through the library. When she found out they were weeks away from distributing their 100 millionth book, she said she couldn’t think of a better time to release her first album of children’s songs. The collection also includes her signature hit “Coat of Many Colors,” songs of making friends, self-encouragement and imagination.
To write the children’s songs, Parton went to the playhouses and playgrounds she has for children in her family and tried to get in the mindset of child to figure out what kinds of songs they need to hear.
“It’s different writing children’s songs,” Parton told The Tennessean in September. “It’s fun for me to do it. It makes me happy to think like I kid. I wanted this album to be a good teacher. Hopefully when they listen to the album they’ll learn to be better little people.”