When it comes to Janelle Arthur, one thing is certain. She has come full circle. The rising country artist and former Top 5 American Idol standout is out with a new duet song called, “Hand Me Downs.” And, it features none other than country legend Dolly Parton.
Arthur started collaborating with Parton on “Hand Me Downs” in 2019 and released it this year after the shutdown. “Hand Me Downs,” co-produced with Jen Stegall and written alongside Emily Lynch, finds the artists celebrating all the family heirlooms, personality traits, and characteristics that get passed down to loved ones over time. Arthur and Parton swap verses on the nostalgic song before before layering their honeyed, East Tennessee harmonies on the choruses.
“This blood that’s runnin’ through my veins / Is givin’ my life in my last name / From the inside out / I’m covered in hand me downs / All I’ve been givеn, I’ll pass it on / I’ve learned to lovе who I’ve become from the inside out / Covered in hand me downs,” they sing throughout the chorus of the touching ballad.
Arthur began performing at an early age and got her start in the music business after auditioning and then landing a role in a live production called Paradise Road. That show, which took place at Dollywood theme park, saw Arthur portraying a young Parton. At the time, Arthur was only eight years old and beginning to get her feet wet in the business.
Now, it appears she is at that place in her life where things are starting to come to fruition!
Country Now caught up with Arthur to learn more about her musical journey, her duet with Dolly Parton, upcoming plans, and more.
Read on to find out more about Arthur in this exclusive Q&A below!
For our readers to get to know you a little bit more, can you share your backstory?
Yes! So, I started singing before I could even talk. My mom realized very early on that I loved music. I started getting on stage when I was about four years old. Then, when I was about seven years old, I auditioned for the show Kids Choir, but I didn’t make it. I’m sure it was because of my southern drawl. When I was younger, I had a hard time masking my southern drawl when I would sing. I was singing these Broadway show-tunes with my big southern accent, which wasn’t going to work. And I was sad about not making the choir. So my mom saw this article in Country Weekly talking about how Dollywood was hiring for their new shows. So, she called Dollywood and asked them if they were still looking for a child for their show. And, they said, ‘Yes. We are still looking for one little girl to portray the young Dolly Parton.’
And, you got offered the role as the young Dolly Parton. Did you get to meet her at that time?
Yes, I did! So the show was called Paradise Road, and I got to meet her then. I got to spend some time with her backstage. We had a couple of conversations, and she was just so sweet. I remember that she always smelled good too (laughs)! So yea, I met her a long time ago. Then we lost touch because I was doing other shows in the Pigeon Forge area. I did a little over seven thousand shows before I ever moved to Nashville. We reconnected when I was on American Idol. She reached out to me then, showing support. And, after that is when everything happened with the song.
With Dolly having such an impact on your musical journey, what’s the best advice she’s given you so far?
I remember when I was very young the first time I had a conversation with her. For some reason, I had just forgotten my words on stage, and she wanted me to sit next to her. I went over and sat beside her, and she was talking to me. She said, ‘You did such a good job.’ I said, ‘Well, I messed up on the words.’ She said, ‘But, you did what you were supposed to do. You just kept going.’ She said, ‘I can’t tell you how many times I had forgotten the words to songs I wrote.’ So, I never forgot that.
Then, in letters that she wrote to me, she would tell me that she was proud of me. So that meant so much. She’d say stuff like, ‘Us Tennessee girls gotta stick together.’ But, it wasn’t until I was driving to Nashville that I realized the impact her influence had on me. I think about her humility and ability to remember where she came from. She never forgot the people who always helped her. Her uncle Bill helped her so much and she never forgot him. She always gave him credit when other people would move on and become this huge celebrity. Things like that have been the biggest for me. That is one reason why I thought ‘Hand Me Downs’ was the perfect song for her because it talks about being proud of that and not forgetting it.
Did you have Dolly in mind when you were writing ‘Hand Me Downs’?
No. We weren’t thinking anything about anyone. We were writing the first song we’ve ever written together, myself and Emily Lynch. She and I wrote this song. It was such a quick process. We both resonated with the whole thought of these hand-me-downs and being proud of your traits, whether that’s your character traits, physical traits, or just heirlooms and things that you carry with you because of your family and heritage. So that was just something that resonated with me.
It was crazy because I was listening to the work tape – as we call it – of how we wrote the song and everything, and it just hit me. I was in the car, and I remember thinking, ‘I have got to get this song to Dolly.’ And, I thought, ‘How am I going to do that?’ So, I had a longtime friend that I had met in Paradise Road. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness! My friend Steve Summers now works for Dolly Parton Enterprises.’ I usually run my ideas by my inner circle. But, with this, I didn’t even talk to my mother about this. I just reached out to him without talking myself out of it. So, I did that, and he ended up talking to Dolly about it. He ended up playing the song to her, and she loved it so much that she told him to relay the message to me to get in touch with her. She wanted me to explain, exactly, what I wanted her to do!
Going back to your childhood, you mentioned your mom helped get you the Paradise Road audition. Along with Dolly’s support, would you consider your mom one of your biggest supporters?
My mom has been such a big part of [my career]. She never pushed me to play music, but she always encouraged me to, and my dad did as well. They were just so selfless. My dad was so selfless, letting us travel and do so many things in music. So, that is a big reason why it hit me one day. I am also thankful to have been involved [in the production side of the song]. I am a co-producer on this song, and it was a big deal for me to have my mom’s heartbeat recorded on it. I did not want just the heartbeat. I wanted the song that had my mother’s heartbeat. So, you hear that running throughout the whole song.
Why did you decide now as the perfect time to release ‘Hand Me Downs’?
A big reason why we wanted to release it right now is that we didn’t want to hold onto it any longer. It’s a special song, and we felt like it needed to be out there. We had already planned on releasing it last year. But, we wanted to wait until the election was over because of the saturation on the Internet. Also, we knew bigger things were going on in the world. So we wanted to hold off for those reasons. But after everything that we’ve all been through, I think several people – myself included – realize that there are so many things in this world in our daily lives that don’t matter that we put so much emphasis on. Family and relationships matter so much more. I know that, personally, my perspective changed quite a bit during everything that happened, and it made me appreciate my family and my loved ones so much more than I already did. We felt like people would be ready for this message and be hungry for these words and this type of song. And, to have Dolly on top of that was the cherry on top!
What does it mean for you to have Dolly Parton on this song?
I mean, it is unbelievable! Her being so willing to say, ‘Tell me what you want me to do,’ shows her humility. I don’t know many people who have even done half of what she has done in this industry who would say, ‘Tell me what you want me to do.’ They would do what they wanted to do. We know Dolly is a businesswoman; she has an incredible business mind. She is not just a musician. She is a smart lady, and she’s not going to get involved in anything that she doesn’t believe in. She’s not going to put her name, or brand, or stamp on something that she doesn’t believe in. So, that’s what meant the most to me. She trusted me with that.
Now that you’ve shared a duet with Dolly have you thought about other artists you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
That’s a great question! You know, I’ve already collaborated with my other musical hero, Vince Gill. He has been an incredible influence on me and a huge sounding board. I asked him several questions about the industry, and he’s giving me a lot of advice over the years. A lot of the people that I’d want to collaborate with have already passed away. My two biggest musical influences were not in country music. Eva Cassidy, for example, was an incredible vocalist who made every cover song her own.
Are there any other projects you’re working on that you can share with us?
I am working on new music. Thankfully, I was able to record a little bit with everything shut down last year. I don’t have any plans for an album, but I have music ready to go right now that I plan on releasing this year. And, I am excited about the fact that the world is opening back up again. I feel like it is the right time to release these songs.
What can fans look for next from you?
I have quite a few shows in the books! I don’t know them off the top of my head, but I already did begin booking shows, and that’s exciting! Also, there are so many things I’ve been trying to capitalize on with just the song. I’m an independent artist, so all of this is me and my management. We are wearing so many different hats! But right now, we’re just focusing on the song being out there, and then we’ll probably release a video at some point.
Fans can keep up with Janelle Arthur on Instagram.