When you work for Dolly Parton, you have a lot to do. The country music star and American icon, who is 76 years old, has a lot going on. “It’s my job to keep Dolly’s reputation in tact at all times,” he says.
(He also has a daughter named Farran who is 28 years old.) Summers had heard at the time that people could try out for jobs as performers. He remembers that his mother told him, “You have a pretty voice, go try out at Opryland and Dollywood.”
Before I went to Nashville, Tennessee, someone told me, “We’ll figure it out as we go.” Summers, who is 58 years old, says, “I’m on the phone” as he pulls up to the airport curb and I get in his car.
Summers is in charge of Parton’s clothes and style, which includes how she looks on tour, on magazine covers, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last month, and on the Home Shopping Network selling perfume.
Now, he says, “Everything matters,” which is the design philosophy behind Dolly. Summers goes on to say that he started his career as a singer and dancer at Dollywood and eventually became Parton’s dance partner onstage.
Four months later, she sang from a giant drum that kept falling over. “Then we’ll take 12.” In 2006, Parton asked Summers to move to Nashville and work with her full-time. Parton says that she is “one of my best and closest friends.”
He told his wife of 23 years that he was gay when he was 44. When he told his parents he was gay, he says, “They were not happy.” “My friends always make fun of me by saying that designing dresses for Dolly Parton is the gayest job on the planet,” he laughs.
“I watched him very closely and saw him help everyone at Dollywood. He was singing, dancing, and making up dance moves all at once. I could see that he could do a lot more.
I think it’s a huge blessing to have Steve Summers in my life. He is one of my most loyal and close friends.” We drive to Brentwood, which is a wooded suburb of Nashville where a lot of famous people live, including Dolly Parton.