Dolly Parton’s Greatest Collaborations: 8 Top Duets

There’s no denying Dolly Parton is a living legend. From the earliest days of her career in the limelight, the buxom blonde proved she has the kind of undeniable star power you simply can’t learn, and has captured the hearts of generations with her sincere songcraft; sweet, folksy charm, and sassy personality. 

Videos by American Songwriter

Parton has charmed millions on her own with modern country classics like “Jolene,” “9 to 5” and “I Will Always Love You” but she’s also no stranger to the art of collaboration. After all, she got her start at 21 on The Porter Wagoner Show, joining host Porter Wagoner at the top of each episode of the variety show from 1967 to 1974 for many a musical number.

In the almost five decades since, the recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee has teamed up with everyone from Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson to Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Miley Cyrus to create musical magic. Ahead of the release of her upcoming album Rockstar — which features star-studded guest appearances by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Sting, Steve Perry, and more — American Songwriter has rounded up eight of Dolly’s greatest duets. Read on for our picks below.

1. “Islands in the Stream” with Kenny Rogers

Dolly’s most-loved duet is undoubtedly “Islands in the Stream” with Kenny Rogers. The romantic mid-tempo jam became a No. 1 hit in 1983, topping the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the country and adult contemporary charts. In early 2020, the song even took the No. 1 spot on CMT’s list of 100 Greatest Duets.

Fun fact: “Islands in the Stream” was originally written for either Marvin Gaye or Diana Ross before it was reworked as the country duet Dolly’s fans know and love. Taking its title from the 1970 Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name, the track gained a second life in the late ‘90s when it was also recorded by the Bee Gees and even interpolated into Mya’s irresistible hook on “Ghetto Supastar (That is What You Are)” with Pras and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

2. “The Last Thing on My Mind” with Porter Wagoner

Dolly first got her start in music by appearing on The Porter Wagoner Show. The then fresh-faced 21-year-old was first introduced to audiences in 1967, regularly performing a musical number with the pompadoured Wagoner at the top of each show. Wagoner quickly convinced his record label, RCA Victor, to offer Parton a recording contract, which began with the release of their debut duet “The Last Thing on My Mind.”

3. “Everything’s Beautiful (In Its Own Way)” with Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson holds the distinction of being the very first artist Parton duetted with after leaving The Porter Wagoner Show and rising to stardom as a solo artist in her own right. The country crooners’ duet of “Everything’s Beautiful (In Its Own Way)” was released as the lead single off The Winning Hand—their 1982 collaborative compilation with Kris Kristofferson and Brenda Lee—and became Parton’s 26th career top ten hit on the Hot Country Songs chart following the likes of “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “9 to 5” and “Here You Come Again.”

4. “To Know Him Is To Love Him” with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt

Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt gave a second life to “To Know Him Is To Love Him,” Phil Spector’s 1958 single with the Teddy Bears, by recording the song for their 1987 collaborative album Trio. The three trailblazing friends topped the country albums chart for five solid weeks by teaming up and each earned yet another No. 1—in Parton’s case, her 19th—on the Hot Country Songs tally. 

More than two decades later, Dolly reunited with Harris and Ronstadt for a reprisal in 1999’s Trio II. The sequel took home a GRAMMY for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals thanks to te trio’s harmonic cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.”

5. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Rod Stewart

By this point, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” may have been covered by dozens of artists throughout its nearly 80-year lifespan, but Dolly’s version with Rod Stewart might hold the distinction as the only recording not included on a holiday album. Instead, Rod the Mod chose to record the snowbound cat-and-mouse game for his 2004 collection Stardust… The Great American Songbook, Volume III. For the occasion, Parton sprinkled the back-and-forth with her signature winking charm and the track has since become one of the most-loved takes on the holiday romp.

6. “Smoky Mountain Rain” with Ronnie Milsap

For his 2019 album The Duets, Ronnie Milsap enlisted Dolly’s help to reinvent his No.1 hit “Smoky Mountain Rain.” The pair’s update on the lovelorn country classic—which began with Dolly spinning the tale of her dream-crushed ex-love thumbing his way “from L.A. back to Knoxville”—was released as the second single off the record and earned Parton her first top 40 hit on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart in 15 years.

7. “Rainbowland” with Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus may be one of the most recognizable pop stars of the millennial generation, but even during her Hannah Montana days, the singer was equally well-known as Dolly’s goddaughter. Over the years, Cyrus has famously covered “Jolene” and even tapped her godmother to help co-host NBC’s New Year’s Eve special in 2022 — where the two sang “Wrecking Ball,” “I Will Always Love You” and “I Love Rock and Roll” to help ring in 2023. 

However, the very first time Parton and Cyrus collaborated in the studio together was back in 2017 for “Rainbowland,” an album cut off the latter’s sixth studio album, Younger Now. The duo envision a better world on the peppy track, harmonizing, We are rainbows, me and you/ Every color, every hue/ Let’s shine on through/ Together, we can start living in a rainbowland. Despite its best intentions at preaching inclusivity, the duet stirred up quite a controversy a few years after its release, when anti-LGBTQ+ activists took issue with the song being played in schools and a first-grade teacher in Wisconsin was even fired after protesting the ban in her school district.

8. “Let It Be” with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr

On her upcoming album Rockstar—her 49th, in fact—Dolly proves she can, indeed, sing anything by channeling the rock star of its title. The 30-track collection promises a wide array of covers and original songs, with guest artists ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Free Bird”) and Debbie Harry (Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”) to Steve Perry (“Open Arms”) and Sting (“Every Breath You Take”). However, the most iconic collab on Rockstar is sure to be Dolly’s just-released take on “Let It Be” featuring none other than Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

Reuniting the two living Beatles (along with special guests Peter Frampton and Mick Fleetwood), Parton coaxes new magic into the Fab Four’s beloved tune with a simple, straightforward vocal that lets Mother Mary’s famous words be preached through her with power.

Photo by Paul Harris/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Earl On The Beat Discusses Making Doja Cat’s “Paint The Town Red,” Working with Drake and Lil Yachty