The Kingdom Heirs’ Valentines Day surprise

Just in time for Valentines Day, the Kingdom Heirs - in the role of back-up vocalists for Dolly Parton - will appear on a new two-disc compilation of love songs being released by the Human Rights Campaign. For those of you not familiar with HRC, it is “a bipartisan organization that works to advance equality based on sexual orientation and gender expression and identity, to ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.” The cd is called Love Rocks and includes Dolly Parton’s song “Sugar Hill,” from her 2002 album Halos and Horns (the label that produced H&H has no record of Parton cutting a new version of the song for the Love Rocks compilation). I called Sugar Hill records this afternoon and confirmed that the liner notes list “The Kingdom Heirs: Steve French, Arthur Rice, David Sutton and Eric Bennett” as back-ground vocalists on the track, which Dolly Parton contributed to the Love Rocks project because, in her words, “I believe love rocks. Love comes in all colors. We are rainbows and should all shine with our own true colors. Rock on!” (the Southern Baptist Press has an article about the cd release here.) It’s not at all clear that Steve French and at least one of the members of the KH at the time feel the same way Parton does. Eric Bennett, you will recall, is part of the Restoration Team whose members performed a de-gaying exorcism of sorts on Kirk Talley when he came out and sought their help. And the longtime friendship between Steve French and Kirk Talley has evidently suffered since Talley came out.I doubt French and Bennett and the rest of KH at the time had any knowledge that the cut was going to be used on the compilation disc. And even if they had known and expressed objections, it’s unlikely that would have changed things. But in any event, the Love Rocks release brings into full relief the fraught relationship that sg generally and the KH specifically have with Dolly Parton. The KH and other sg types with connections to Parton (cf SGMA) like to tout their relationship with her. Look, she’s one of us, a good evangelical girl from the hills who made it big, and she does bidness with us. And in addition to noting her professional support of gospel music, these sg types point to her frequent and eloquent mention of the role her evangelical roots played in the development of her character and the importance she places in that faith still. But what no one talks about is how Parton and many of her sg business associates have fundamentally opposed values about many things, namely sexuality and gay rights - issues that evangelical fundamentalism does not compromise on, at least not theoretically. This isn’t a problem for Parton so much as it is for the sg folks who regularly denounce just the kind of “worldliness” that Parton represents. They pull off this feat of cognitive dissonance by pretending that Parton the Social Activist and politically progressive star doesn’t exist, that she doesn’t appear on the television show Ellen (which she does), that she hasn’t done a live singer/songwriter special for cable with Melissa Etheridge (which she has), that she hasn’t made repeated and public statements in support of legal rights for same-sex couples (which she continues to do).

So long as the image of Parton that sg fans get comes from Dollywood (which remains pretty well scrubbed cleaned of any progressivist activism of the kind Parton regularly speaks about in public and from the stage), the sg notion of Dolly the sweet country church girl is usually a manageable pretense to perpetuate. But as far as I know, this Love Rocks business is the first time that an sg affiliation with Dolly has become directly and inextricably linked with Parton the Political Progressive and her commitment to organizations that share her values and support causes she believes strongly in - organizations and causes whose purpose and aims the Christian right specifically opposes. The KH and some of sg’s most prominent players have taken a hear-no-evil-see-no-evil approach toward Dolly in order to enjoy the benefits of an official business relationship with her. The SN (which banned mention of Talley’s name in the magazine after he came out but accepts advertising from Parton), the SGMA, and the KH are only the most prominent operations in sg with close ties to Parton and her business. Hard to see any way that this charade of blissful ignorance can go on much longer without forcing a lot of folks into a tight spot where they’ll have some ’splainin’ to do.

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