EXCLUSIVE: Dolly Parton Praises 'Precious' Taylor Swift for Huge Donation to Her Smoky Mountains Fire Fund
By Raphael Chestang
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ET joined Dolly Parton in Tennessee on Tuesday before the country music legend's Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund telethon.
"These are the woods I roamed around in as a little kid," Parton told ET. "We were blessed none of my family were injured and lost in the properties, but so many of my friends and neighbors lost everything."
Last month, wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains caused thousands to flee from the Tennessee foothills and left many homeless.
"You never think about a thing like that happening," Parton said. "Especially in the Smoky Mountains -- the most beautiful place, the most-visited national park in the United States. You just think they're supposed to just be there in their glory forever. The only thing I can relate to it is when we had the floods in Nashville and how devastating that was."
More than 17,000 acres have burned since the fire broke out on Nov. 23, and the damage has been estimated at more than $500 million. Parton told ET that the goal is to raise at least $10 million, and she's already gotten a head start. Kenny Chesney, an East Tennessee native, gave $250,000 to the cause, while Taylor Swift made a $100,000 donation last week. Swift's contribution was matched by the Academy of Country Music for a combined $200,000 donation in advance of the telethon.
"Taylor Swift, I noticed through the years, she's the first to throw herself right into any good cause," Parton gushed about the pop star. "Any time anything happens, Taylor's there to make big donations and offer time and money. I'm so thankful to her. I
just think she's precious."
The disaster is clearly very close to Parton's heart, and she said this played a part in the naming of her My People fund.
"My family show at Dollywood is called 'My People,' and so we felt that would be the perfect thing, because it's about my people, the ones who aren't blood I could say are good neighbors and feel like family," Parton explained. "And even the fans and the people who come to all our businesses there, they're like family, so they're my people too. It just seemed to be the perfect name for it."
The Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund telethon airs Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. EST on Great American Country. Click here to donate.