53rd annual CMA Awards: Country music stars praise Dolly Parton

CMA Awards

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Country Music’s Biggest Night was even bigger with several female country music stars giving historic performances including East Tennessee’s own Dolly Parton.

Before the CMA Awards show got underway, there was a star-studded red carpet across from the Bridgestone Arena at the Music City Center.

PHOTOS: The 53rd annual CMA Awards

That’s where WATE 6 On Your Side Anchor Kristin Farley was stationed, speaking with and seeing some of country music’s biggest stars.

The star most talked about of the night? Dolly, of course.

Star after star sang the praises of Dolly Parton while walking the red carpet at the CMA Awards.

“She’s so special, Dolly has a lot of heart,” said Crystal Gayle. “She uses it so much. She’s just out there…What else can you say about Dolly? She’s perfect.”

Whether singing alongside the legend like Crystal Gayle on the historic female-driven night, or collaborating on an inspirational performance like Zach Williams — the sentiment seemed the same.

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“I’ve been pinching myself all afternoon,” Williams said. “To be here now, to have her love the song and want to be part of it, and ask me to perform it in the first place, and perform it on a stage this size with the reach that it has – what an honor.”

The praise for Dolly transcended generations.

“American Idol” season 17 winner Laine Hardy talked about listening to Dolly long before he had dreams of being a singer himself.

“I remember my dad and he would always turn on the radio…Dolly Parton would come on, and my mom would sing it in the back seat. I mean she’s just a legend,” Hardy said of Dolly’s music.

Best New Artist nominee Carley Pearce, who dropped out of high school to work at Dollywood at the age of 16, also offered her thoughts on Dolly and how inspiring she is for her other work.

“She is the most perfect balance of a classy lady with a huge heart with a little sass – an amazing talent, an amazing songwriter – that gives back to the community,” Pearce said of Dolly. “She is an amazing businesswoman. What would Dolly do?”

It was a big night for East Tennessee – Dolly took center stage, but Knoxville’s own Kelsea Ballerini also performed.

Ballerini sang her hit, “Homecoming Queen” while strumming guitar before being joined by other female country artists including Pearce for a rendition of “Girl Crush,” the hit by Little Big Town, who also joined the performance.

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