MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Thursday night at 9 p.m., an NBC original movie about Dolly Parton's childhood aired on WMBF News. The movie, called Coat of Many Colors is a story about Dolly Parton's upbringing, and how tragedy and challenges in her childhood steered her on the path to becoming what many consider a living legend. Mandy Noell had a chance to meet a local woman with a unique connection to Dolly.
Dolly Parton Tribute Artist Karen Hester has spent the last five years of her life devoting her professional career to looking, acting, sounding and singing like Dolly Parton. Six days a week she is on stage, performing before crowds, sometimes twice a day, the living embodiment of the woman she describes as an icon.
From humble beginnings, it started for Dolly Parton. "She lived in a one-room shack with all her brothers and sisters," Hester said. And despite tragedy in her childhood, Dolly Parton became a household name.
"She always knew her entire life what she was meant to do," Hester said. "She always was singing, always playing the guitar. You can hear her tell stories about her going out on the farm and her audience was the chickens and the pigs."
The movie was based on the song Dolly wrote about her childhood, the Coat of Many Colors.
"It is a story about her mother," Hester continued. "Because they were definitely in poverty. And if you listen to the lyrics of the song, it actually tells the story. Her mother - they didn't have any money for a winter coat. Someone had donated several pieces of material to her mother. And that's how she made the coat of many colors, it was several different pieces of material that her mother sewed together so that she would have a winter coat. And of course, she thought it was beautiful. And the kids did not. So she was bullied at school. But in Dolly's nature, she took it very well."
Hester says it's a Dolly Parton classic, and that portraying the singer has opened doors for her.
"I travel all around the world now impersonating Dolly," Hester said. Becoming Dolly on stage is something she has taken on within the last five years. "A few years ago, I probably would have laughed at if you would have told me I would be doing this as a career."
But it's not all glitz and glam for Hester when the show ends and the lights go off. "I turn back into Karen - a mom and wife. And I look nothing like this outside of the costume," she said, adding that her most meaningful performances aren't performances at all.
"Charities that I've done here locally, and some nursing homes that I've visited - those are some of the most touching moments that I've had being a tribute artist," she said. "Cause it's not always about the performance, it's about making a connection with the people. And I've been in nursing homes where these people all their life, they wanted to meet Dolly. And I walk in, and they believe that I am her."
Hester describes Dolly Parton as a celebrity who withstands the tests of time.
"She's been around since the 60's and she's just stood the test of time. That's why she's an icon. She is a legend, she's a living legend. Most people's music careers, I'm sure if you think back, it's about a five-year thing. And she's been around since the 60's. So you're talking about decades of her making music. A lot of people don't realize she's written five or six thousand songs. A lot of those songs are hits for other artists. Not only in country music, but in pop."
Currently, Hester and Legends in Concert are in the middle of the Christmas show. "Where I'm at, connecting with the audience, they connect back cause they feel the heart of her, and the warmth of her. And that's what I want them to feel."