When Dolly Parton won her first CMA Award in 1968 for Vocal Group of the Year with her duet partner Porter Wagoner, she stood demurely behind Wagoner as he delivered an acceptance speech, uttering hardly a word.
Just ten years later, Parton was front and center as a solo artist up for the CMA’s top honor, Entertainer of the Year and the moment was all hers. But just before presenters Johnny Cash and Ronnie Milsap announced her name as the winner, her gown split down the front.
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“I remember thinking this is such a beautiful dress, but the fabric is so delicate! I thought, ‘Man, as tight as I wear my clothes…’ – and I was a little hefty then anyway! – I thought ‘I hope this all holds together!'” Parton tells PEOPLE in the magazine’s Special Edition: 50 Years of the CMA Awards. “When they called my name, I felt something creeping up my stomach and I thought, ‘Oh My God – my dress is coming apart!’ And I thought ‘What am I gonna do?'”
Because she’s Dolly, the answer is, of course, she worked it.
“Marianne Rogers [Kenny Rogers’ wife at the time] had on a big fur stole and I was sitting down there near her, so I grabbed her stole and held it up,” she says. Taking the podium to accept her big award, she fessed up to the crowd: “I had this dress made in case I won and about five minutes ago, I was hoping I wouldn’t win because I busted the front out of it!” she said at the time, adding to raucous laughter from the crowd, “But my daddy says that’s what I got for putting 50 pounds of mud in a 5 pound bag!'”
Her oops moment was “a mixed blessing in a way,” Parton says. “I wanted to look good when I won the award, but I did think, ‘Well, this is very entertaining!’ That that fit in well with the award!”