Dolly Parton may not have children, but she is incredibly close to her goddaughter, Miley Cyrus. The country legend and child actor-turned pop superstar regularly gush about each other. And when they're not trading shoutouts on social media, they're taking to the stage hand-in-hand. The close-knit duo have performed live at some of the biggest awards shows in the music business— a fitting platform for a bond forged in country music.
Even when Miley was a child, Parton knew that there was something different about her friend Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter and that she would grow up to do big things. "I've always loved her, since she was little, and I knew she was special," Parton told Marie Claire. "She just had a light about her. Her sparkle, and her smile, and her eyes were always full of wonder."
Cyrus became a superstar in her own right. Her life in the public eye has had its ups and downs, and Aunt Dolly has never been anything but supportive. Following Cyrus' sudden divorce from actor Liam Hemsworth in 2019, Parton said in an interview with People that her goddaughter would be just fine.
"Lord, I've done everything, and what I ain't done, I intend to," Parton said. "She's going to do that, too. But Miley's smart; Miley knows what she's doing. I know we think she doesn't, and she might not every minute, but I still know that she's got good stuff in her."
How Dolly Parton Became Miley Cyrus' Godmother
"I worked with Billy Ray for all those years, when he had 'Achy Breaky Heart,'" Parton said. "He worked with me on some shows we did in the early days. He opened some of my shows. We just got to know each other. I wrote a song called 'Romeo,' and had him in a video. We just kind of gelled, 'cause we're both country kids. We had a lot of fun just talking about that. And then when Miley came along, I said, 'She's got to be my fairy goddaughter.'"
From day one, Cyrus was surrounded by some of the biggest names in the music industry. She was a natural, and at age 13, she landed the Disney series Hannah Montana. Her father co-starred in the series and her "fairy godmother," Dolly, appeared as a special guest.
"When she was on that little show, I saw what great timing she had, what a great little comedian she was," Parton said. "But I'd always known her to write her little songs on her little left-handed guitar. I guess Billy Ray is the lefty. And so she just kind of grew up with us. With Billy and me—Billy Ray, her dad—, we were friends and we worked a lot together, doing shows together, traveling some. But I just knew she was just going to make it. I just knew she was a star."
Here's a few of the multiple memorable moments the pair has shared together in recent years.
2006-2010: Parton on Hannah Montana
Parton debuted on Hannah Montana in the Season 1 episode "Good Golly Miss Dolly," which aired in 2006. Parton returned in Season 2's "I Will Always Love You" and Season 4's "Kiss It All Goodbye."
Parton appeared Aunt Dolly, who, fittingly, played the title character's godmother. Aunt Dolly lived in Nashville with her husband, Uncle Pete. Like Parton's real-life husband Carl Dean, Uncle Pete avoided the camera.
"I'm famous now because I'm Hannah Montana's Aunt Dolly," Parton said (as quoted on her website. "Little kids just see me in the street and just point — 'Aunt Dolly!' or 'Hi, Aunt Dolly!' — and it's just been so cute."
2017: In-Studio Magic
The first evidence of godmother-goddaughter chemistry in the studio came when Parton appeared on Cyrus' 2017 album Younger Now. "Rainbowland" starts with an adorable voice mail from Parton to Cyrus before blossoming into a '60s country-folk throwback on which Cyrus shines as brightly as her iconic collaborator.
In 2020, Cyrus returned the favor by guesting on Parton's 2020 Christmas album A Holly Dolly Christmas. This time, they traded verses and harmonized on the chorus of the sentimental carol "Christmas Is."
2019: The "Jolene" Connection
Over the years, the two entertainers have teamed up for numerous duets. They performed "Jolene" at the 2019 Grammy Awards and on The Voice, proving that the country singer and pop star's voices are a powerful pairing.
The Parton-Cyrus connection over "Jolene" goes deeper. Parton told Entertainment Tonight in 2019 that she initially wanted Cyrus to play Jolene in her Netflix series Dolly Parton's Heartstrings.
"Years back when I used to think of Jolene, you know, before Julianne [Hough] came on, I used to think... I'd love— Miley would have been great at that as well," said Parton. "But Miley was doing other things. It wasn't that kind of a thing, but she would have been great in that as well."
A live version of "Jolene" appears on Cyrus' 2022 album Attention: Miley Live.
2020: Billboard's Hitmaker Award
Cyrus is quick to recognize the impact Parton has had on songwriting and in the music industry at large. Cyrus even had the honor of presenting her godmother with the first-ever Hitmaker Award at Billboard's 2020 Women in Music event.
"I've never met anyone that doesn't like Dolly Parton," Cyrus said. "And it's safe to say if they don't like her, it's only because they love her." She went on to explain the ways in which Parton has influenced other genres of music and "has paved the way for other women songwriters, encouraging them to take ownership and get the credit that they deserve— an issue many women in the songwriting industry still struggle with today.
"When Elvis [Presley] sought to record Dolly's 'I Will Always Love You,' Dolly famously said no, keeping control of her song that Elvis wanted half of the publishing royalties to," Cyrus continued. "Slay all day, Dolly."
Miley's pivots over the past year from being blonde go against sage advice from Parton.
"I've never seen Dolly actually scared before. She acted like I told her the worst news you can imagine," Cyrus recounted in Dec. 2022 on Today. "She clutched her pearls, gasped and went back and she goes, 'You can't do that. You are me.'"
Cyrus proposed the hair transformation for NBC special Miley's New Year's Eve Party, co-hosted by Parton. The pair rang in the new year with an energetic lineup of duets along with guest performances by the likes of Sia and hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd.
2023: Parton and Cyrus' Rock 'n' Roll "Wrecking Ball"
They continue to cross creative paths on stage and in the studio. Parton's 2024 album Rockstar features a duet with her goddaughter of Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball." It was released on Oct. 20 as a single.
A decade after Cyrus made it a pop hit, "Wrecking Ball" got transformed into a piano-based ballad that's less of a banger and more of a weeper. To tie it to Parton's legacy, there's an "I Will Always Love You" refrain.
"When I heard 'Wrecking Ball' I almost wept in my car," Parton wrote on Twitter. "When it started into the chorus it hit me like a wrecking ball! I thought how great can a song be and how great can [Cyrus] be? I thought, I have to have that song on my rock album and I have to have Miley sing it with me! I love it and I hope you do!"
This article was previously published on Dec. 1, 2022. It was updated on Nov. 16, 2023.
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