IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Dolly Parton turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice

She explained that her husband's illness and the ongoing pandemic meant she couldn't make the timing work.
Image: Netflix Film Dumplin Luncheon
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor.Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Besides being East Tennessee's songbird, country superstar Dolly Parton has always had a philanthropic side and it turns out even presidents have noticed!

The queen of country, 75, told TODAY in an interview that former President Donald Trump's administration tried to give her the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, twice but she had to turn them down.

"I couldn't accept it because my husband was ill and then they asked me again about it and I wouldn't travel because of the COVID," she explained, adding that she has since heard from President Joe Biden about the award as well. "Now I feel like if I take it, I'll be doing politics, so I'm not sure."

"But I don't work for those awards," she continued. "It'd be nice but I'm not sure that I even deserve it. But it's a nice compliment for people to think that I might deserve it."

"I think everyone thinks you might deserve it," TODAY's Hoda Kotb reassured her.

Watch TODAY All Day! Get the best news, information and inspiration from TODAY, all day long.

Since 1995, the "Jolene" singer has run Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, a literacy program that's donated more than 100 million children's books in the past 26 years. In 2016, her Dollywood Foundation donated $1,000 per month to several hundred families in East Tennessee that lost their homes to wildfires.

She also donated $1 million to help fund coronavirus research at Vanderbilt University, which helped make the Moderna vaccine.

"I'm just happy that anything I do can help somebody else, and when I donated the money to the COVID fund, I just wanted it to do good," she told TODAY last November. "Evidently, it is."

In an interview last fall, former President Barack Obama said he should have given the singer the prestigious award.

"How does Dolly Parton not have a presidential medal of freedom?" Comedian Stephen Colbert asked Obama.

"That's a mistake. I'm shocked," the former president replied. "Actually, that was a screwup, I'm surprised. I think I assumed that she'd already got one and that was incorrect. I'm surprised, she deserves one."

He added that he planned to "call Biden," a promise he seemingly kept his word on, given that Parton said she'd heard from the current president already — even though his administration just took office on Jan. 20.

Throughout his presidency, Obama gave the award to several musicians, including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Gloria Estefan and Barbra Streisand.

During his administration, Trump bestowed only one musician with the Presidential Medal of Freedom: the late Elvis Presley. Nearly two weeks into his administration, Biden has not given out any of the awards.

Tune in to TODAY on Tuesday morning for the full interview with Parton.