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Dolly Parton, the role model the world needs right now

In a culture of heedless self-aggrandizement, the country star’s humility stands out.

Dolly Parton performs at Austin City Limits Live during Blockchain Creative Labs' Dollyverse event during the South by Southwest Music Festival on March 18 in Austin, Texas.Jack Plunkett/Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP

Has there ever been a moment when the world needed more humility — and more cultural figures willing to help us rediscover that fusty old virtue?

Turn on the news and you’ll see a dictator waging an ego-driven war; faux experts asserting how to stop a pandemic; and certitude-driven vitriol of all stripes blasting from social media.

In other words, has there even been a moment when we needed Dolly Parton more?

Last week, after the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame put her on its annual ballot, Parton took to social media — not to tout the nomination, but to (politely) turn it down.


“Even though I am extremely flattered and grateful to be nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” she wrote, “I don’t feel that I have earned that right.”

The country singer and songwriter didn’t want to take any votes from true rockers.

“I do hope the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will understand and be willing to consider me again — if I’m ever worthy,” she wrote, adding that the nomination had inspired her “to put out a hopefully great rock n’ roll album at some point in the future, which I have always wanted to do!”

The note was signed “Dolly” in big, looping cursive, accompanied by a spry little sketch of her signature butterfly.

Parton’s gesture shouldn’t have been a surprise.

This is a woman who has twice rejected offers of a Presidential Medal of Freedom and last year asked the state Legislature in her native Tennessee to put aside plans to erect a statue of her on the Capitol grounds.

“Given all that is going on in the world,” she said, “I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time.”


Parton’s Imagination Library has given over 176 million books to children all over the world. The singer donated $1 million to a children’s hospital in Nashville and put another $1 million into research that led to a COVID vaccine. And her Dollywood amusement park now covers 100 percent of the costs of tuition, fees, and books for employees seeking degrees.

But in a culture of heedless self-aggrandizement — billionaire rockets and egoist war and yet another Kardashians show — her humility got us again.

That may, ultimately, propel her candidacy for the hall.

Not long after Parton issued her statement, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation issued one of its own. The organization was standing by its nomination. “In addition to her incredible talent as an artist,” the foundation said, “her humility is another reason Dolly is a beloved icon by millions of fans around the world.”

Parton now stands in fourth place in the fan vote, after Duran Duran, Eminem, and Pat Benatar, and before the Eurythmics. The top five will constitute a “fan ballot” to be tallied alongside the votes of artists, industry professionals, and historians who select the inductees.

Several commentators have suggested that Parton is right — that she isn’t a rock n’ roller and shouldn’t get the honor she has so graciously pushed away.

But the hall has inducted several country stars before, including Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., and Brenda Lee. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation said, when it announced that Parton would stay on the ballot, rock “is not defined by any one genre,” but “rather a sound that moves youth culture.”


Parton has undoubtedly moved — with “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” and an infectious, campy cool.

Her influence continues to be felt, in the music of artists like her goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, and in covers by influential musicians like Waxahatchee and Kesha.

Put her in the hall, then, for her incredible talent — and for her humility, too.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.