Not only is Dolly Parton a world-renowned country music star, but she has long been known as an artist who encourages acceptance and equality for all, including those in the LGBTQ+ community. Parton shared that acceptance by a crafting song called "Travelin' Thru" for the 2005 film Transamerica. The film, directed by Duncan Tucker, stars Felicity Huffman as a transgender woman named Bree who finds out she has a long-lost son. The movie follows Bree as she explores her identity in regard to her family and her newfound son.
Although "Travelin' Thru" doesn't directly mention the struggles experienced by the movie's lead character, it appeals to all kinds of outsiders looking to find their way in the world. This feeling is something Parton herself experienced growing up in East Tennessee. So she actually ended up being the perfect person to craft such a message for this emotionally charged story.
"My grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher. It was a sin to even pluck your eyebrows, and they thought it was a sin for me to be there looking like Jezebel," the beloved country star shared with USA Today in 2006.
In "Travelin' Thru," Parton sings about traveling the journey of life, something we all must do, and the trials and tribulations that come along with that. The song also preaches acceptance of oneself, especially with the line, "God made me for a reason and nothing is in vain." Not only was the song inspired by Parton's own experience as an "outsider," but she also took inspiration from two transgender friends. Which makes it directly applicable to Transamerica and almost makes it even more special.
"I have a friend and a relative who are transgender. I said, 'I'll be happy to make a stab at that.' It came really easily, because I had personal stuff to draw from," she wrote in her book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. (quote via cheatsheet.com).
Parton wrote the song on her bus in one day, and as every great songwriter does, she wanted the song to relate to anyone who came across it, no matter what their struggles were. She really is so incredibly gifted, is there anything she can't do?
"I tried to write 'Travelin' Thru' from a broader scale, to make it about people who are trying to find out who they are or what their purpose is in life," she added. "It's about people and their life's journey: 'I don't know where I'm going. I don't even know where I've been.'"
"Travelin' Thru" was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song in 2006 and Parton gave an energetic performance at the 78th Academy Awards. The song lost the award to fellow nominees Paul Beauregard, Jordan Houston, and Cedric Coleman for "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp," but it still earned the honor of being recognized at one of the prestigious awards ceremonies in the world. "Travelin' Thru" was also nominated for a Golden Globe, a Grammy Award, and a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award. The Golden Globe award ended up going to fellow country artist Emmylou Harris' "A Love That Will Never Grow Old."
Although Parton's attitude toward inclusion was well documented by the 2000s -- it goes back to her song "Family" from her 1991 album, Eagle When She Flies -- she still received hate for writing the song for the movie. But, in true Parton fashion, she simply stayed positive and moved on.
"Having a big gay following, I get hate mail and threats," she told USA Today. "Some people are blind or ignorant, and you can't be that prejudiced and hateful and go through this world and still be happy. One thing about this movie is that I think art can change minds. It's all right to be who you are."
Enjoy all things country?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.