‘Inclusion’s everything’: Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks hope ACM Awards show can unify


Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton have a few things in common: both are country music icons with record-setting careers that have transcended the genre. Both have also never been afraid to speak up for what they believe in and back that talk by walking the walk with their wallets.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that as the duo prepares to co-host the 58th Academy of Country Music Awards, (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, Amazon Prime), they’re on the same page when it comes to how the evening can resonate with viewers.

“I think music does unify us,” Parton, 77, told USA TODAY. The 13-time ACM winner and Brooks, a 22-time winner, joined forces via Zoom from Nashville to promote the show. “I think that’s the universal language, as they say. ‘The voice of the soul.’”

Parton’s and Brooks’ respective philanthropy and advocacy has spanned from child literacy and hospital research to same-sex marriage. Although the “9 to 5” singer noted that neither she nor Brooks “march in the streets to have to protest anything,” she said that they “both love people.”

“Our thing is just (being) inclusive,” Brooks, 61, continued. “Never stop the conversation. If what you’re hearing you don’t like, don’t shut it down because you can still learn from it.

“Keep the conversation going. That’s what love does. That’s what empathy does. So inclusion’s everything.”

Brooks added that he hopes inclusion defines country music, to which Parton replied, “Amen.”

Now for the surprise: despite knowing each other for years, this is the first time Parton and Brooks have worked together on anything. And for the six-time entertainer of the year, it’s his first time ever co-hosting an award show.

“We’ll see each other at award shows but you just pretty much stand at a distance. It’s Dolly Parton, right?’” Brooks explained, throwing flowers his co-host’s way and receiving a skeptical look in return. “(Parton’s) band and crew were coming through Oklahoma and we had them out at the farm.

“It’s amazing. She’s Dolly Parton but at the same time… she’s Dolly Parton.”

“Yeah, I’m just Dolly Parton, so cool it there!” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer quickly interjected, getting a laugh out of Brooks. “We’re looking to have a lot of fun and we’re hoping our show goes well.”

As for the show itself: the ACMs will broadcast from the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas,  which mainly serves as practice facility for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Hardy and Lainey Wilson lead all artists with seven and six nominations respectively. Asked about the current slate of nominees, Parton mentioned recent ACM Triple Crown Award winner (entertainer of the year, new artist and artist category wins) Miranda Lambert, who comes into the evening with five nods.“I’ve known Miranda for years. I’m always on her side,” Parton said. “And we’ve got a lot of great new people, like Lainey Wilson.”

“I love the traditional cowboy flavor, so Cody Johnson (three nominations), Luke Combs (five nominations),” Brooks added. “All of the current icons of country music will be there to represent and show that we’re all a fan.”