Why Dolly Parton is wrong to say she's not rock'n'roll enough for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Dolly Parton speaks at the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards on April 18, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's a pattern that repeats itself every year. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announces its nominees, and meltdown ensues. Some of it's about the overlooked (some deserving contenders, from Joy Division to Nick Drake, have been eligible for decades yet remain un-nominated), and some of it's about the perception that somehow the nominated artists aren't rock'n'roll enough

One artist who seems to agree with the latter group is much-loved country star Dolly Parton, who was nominated for this year's class of inductees in February. She initially expressed surprise at the decision – telling Billboard, "I’ve never thought of myself as being rock'n'roll in any sense of the word" – and now she's gone a step further and declined the nomination altogether.

“Even though I am extremely flattered and grateful to be nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I don’t feel that I have earned that right,” Parton writes in a statement. “I really do not want votes to be split because of me, so I must respectfully bow out.”

She continues: "I hope the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will understand and be willing to consider me again – if I'm ever worthy. This has, however, it has inspired me to release a hopefully good rock'n'roll album in the future, which I have always wanted to do! My husband is a total rock'n'roll freak and he has always encouraged me to do one!"

Parton then signs off with the phrase, "Rock on!"

While Parton's decision to step away in the wake of the undignified hoo-hah that followed her nomination is typical of her diplomacy, she wouldn't have been an entirely novel inductee: country legends Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Brenda Lee are all in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame already, and the more recent inductions of hip hop stars Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. confirm that the RARHOF continues to do what the RARHOF has always done: celebrate popular, influential musicians. 

Your mileage may vary when it comes to how well The Hall's organisers have managed this process – they've been accused of being unqualified gatekeepers, of being open to music industry lobbying, of ignoring public votes, and of perpetuating a selection process that's utterly opaque – but show us an awards show that doesn't generate controversy and we'll show you a ceremony no one is watching.  

Part of it is in the name. If the Hall were called the Popular Music Hall Of Fame, some of the bickering would subside overnight, and perhaps a switch is in order. It's a much more accurate description of what the Hall's job is and what it does every year, but the narrow-minded are drawn to the 'Rock & Roll' moniker like rubberneckers to a towering inferno, as if it's a restriction rather than an umbrella. 

And so it proves with every new set of nominees. The people who complained about Parton's inclusion this year would almost certainly have been bleating about The Coasters' nomination back in 1988, The Bee Gees in 1996, and Run DMC in 2009. 

Parton clearly did what she felt was most appropriate in graciously backing away from her own nomination, but her presence on the ballot was legitimate. She may not yet have made her "hopefully good" rock'n'roll album, but she's been a musical giant for decades and an influence on generations of musicians. 

And there's more: from her ongoing library programme for underprivileged children, to the various scholarships she funds, to her donations to the coronavirus research programme at Vanderbilt University that helped produce Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, she's a literal force for good.  

And that makes her way more rock'n'roll than most. 

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Class Of 2022 will be announced in May, with the induction ceremony taking place later in the year.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.