Dolly Parton is one of, if not the biggest country star of all time. Even people that don’t like country music find their heads bopping to her voice. Not only is she talented, but she’s kind as well, donating and creating several charity groups for key issues. Let’s take a look at this icon’s life and the legacy that she created.
Dolly Parton’s parents were Avie Lee Owens and Robert Lee Parton. Owens, actually came from a musical background as well, with her father having wrote some of his own songs. One song, Singing His Praise, was later recorded by country singer Kitty Wells. On the other hand, Parton worked on farms and construction zones, doing his best to support his family. He would always make it to work, no matter the situation, and would return home to the love and affection of his family.
A Bag Of Oatmeal
Dolly, herself, was born the fourth child in the Parton family. Her family always struggled to make ends meet, to a degree where they had to pay the doctor that helped deliver her with a bag of oatmeal. But the family always stuck together. It was always cramped living in a one-bedroom cabin with 11 siblings.
Growing Up Self-Sufficient
The Parton family lived near the Smoky Mountains and took full advantage of its nutrient-rich landscape. Dolly and her siblings learned how to live off the land from their mother. They raised chickens, picked local fruit, and grew a variety of crops. Their father also hunted in order to bring in some meat. The only thing they needed to buy was coffee and sugar. Dolly has always looked back on her humble beginnings with a sincere fondness.
Little Tiny Tassel Top
Before Parton could read or write, she was already singing. Her father had made her a little doll by hand using corn for her to play with. That day, she went to the porch and began singing Little Tiny Tassel Top, fascinating her mother with how well composed the song was for a five-year old. Avie Lee made sure to write down the lyrics upon hearing them. It was the first sign of what would grow into a stellar career.
In July 1955, tragedy struck the Parton family. Larry, one of Parton’s younger brother, had died only four days after his birth. In an interview with E-News, Parton discussed the event, saying, “When we were born, my mother over the years would say ‘This one is gonna be your baby.’ That just meant that you got to take extra care of it. You have to get up at night and rock it back and forth. The baby that died was my baby.” Things were tough, and would remain tough. Even with a death in the family, it was constantly freezing in the Smoky Mountains, and there wasn’t much insolation to keep them warm. Dolly’s song, Coat of Many Colors, was actually a tribute to her harsh childhood.
Making Her Debut
When Parton was ten, her uncle, Bill, gave her her first guitar. She almost immediately began creating music and writing down lyrics. Soon, she was even singing at a local radio station in Knoxville. Her beautiful voice, coupled with her charming personality, helped her rise to local stardom. She even began appearing on Knoxville TV and recording music with a small label company after she was 12.
Going Out On Her Own
Immediately after her high school graduation, Parton decided to take a leap of faith. She moved to Nashville in order to become a country singer. At only 18, she was determined to make things work. And lucky for her, she was signed by Monument Records rather quickly, albeit as a pop-artist.
Love At First Sight
It was following her move to Nashville that Parton would meet the love of her life. On the weekends, she would go to the local laundromat, Wishy-Washy, to get her clothes washed. And on day, while folding her clothes, she locked eyes with a man. That man was Carl Dean, the one who would become her husband. Remembering their first encounter, Dean said, “my first thought after seeing Dolly for the first time was that I wanted to marry her”. They were married in 1966.
Hello I’m Dolly
As Dolly performed more with Monument Records, she realized it didn’t feel like the right fit. Rather than being a pop artist, she wanted to sing country music. Her first single, Dumb Blonde, was a country song hit, reaching number 24 on the charts, although Parton didn’t write the song, herself. Her first solo album was Hello, I’m Dolly, and ended up being her only album with Monument Records.
Rejuvenating A Career
At age 21, Parton began working with Porter Wagoner, a fellow country singer. The duo won many awards during their career together, allowing both of their careers to soar to new heights. According to Wagoner’s daughter, Debra, “Parton helped rejuvenate my father’s career”. Although, she knew she was destined to be a solo artist, and after seven years of working together, Parton wrote I Will Always Love You, as a tribute to Wagoner and a goodbye as their partnership came to an end.
9 To 5
And in 1980, Parton proved that she wasn’t only a skilled singer, but could act as well. She made her acting debut in the film 9 to 5, alongside veteran actresses Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dabney Coleman. She was the least-experienced actress on set, but made up for that shortcoming with ample experience. A song she wrote, which shared the name of the film, ended up becoming the theme of the movie, as well as becoming number one on the pop and country charts.
A Gift For Her Parents
Since she was little, Parton was always motivated by the desire to provide for her family. And after hitting it big in the music industry she finally got to do just that. She bought her father a big, blue truck and her mother a brand new Cadillac. Both of her parents have since passed, but she cherishes both vehicles to this day.
Posing For Playboy
In 1978, Parton was invited to appear on the cover of Playboy. Ordinarily, the magazine would display sexual material and female nudity, but Parton had a few stipulations if she were to appear. She appeared on the cover fully-clothed, with a pair of bunny ears, a bow tie, and a big smile. The issue, itself, still did incredibly well.
With Parton rising in fame, the next logical step for her was to open a theme park. In 1986, she partnered with the Herschend Brothers, founds of Silver Dollar City, and created an amusement park in the Great Smoky Mountains. Dollywood became one of Tennessee’s most popular tourist attractions, featuring rollercoaster rides, shows, a water park, and a spa. In 2010 it even won one of the top amusement park awards at the sector’s annual international expo in Orlando, Florida.
Always Giving Back
Parton continued to pay tribute to her humble beginnings and made sure to give back to the world. She donates to dozens of charities and created a few, herself. In 1995, she created the Imagination Library to help promote literacy. The organization mails one book every month to children from birth to the age of five.
Parton and Dean have been married since 1966, but after some research you may notice that there are very few photos of the two of them together. Dean isn’t a big fan of the spotlight, and Parton simply respects his wishes to live a more private life. They’ve been happily married for 50 years, and claim that the secret to a happy marriage is spending some time apart. Normally, that’s whenever Parton goes on tour.
In 2016, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, Parton and Dean renewed their vows. On their marriage, Parton said, “We’re really very proud of our marriage. It’s the first for both of us. And the last.” Despite the love they have for each other, they have no had any children. Parton had suffered from severe endometriosis, requiring her to undergo a full hysterectomy. However, she does a have a darling godchild in pop superstar Miley Cyrus.
Daddy’s Dinner Bucket
Parton’s father was one of the most important people to her, and she constantly gushed about his hard-working attitude, bravery, and kindness. He was laid to rest shortly before Christmas in 2000 by his children. An old, green lunch box is the symbol of her father’s devotion to his family. On this reason, Parton said, “He used to save a portion of his lunch to share with his children after work. We would take those tasty treats he would leave behind and hide away under a blackberry bush and have a picnic fit for a king.”
While most people wake up around six or seven in the morning, Parton goes the extra mile and wakes up at three in the morning on average. According to her, waking up that early allows her more time to review her schedule and practice meditation. Although, in order to get up that early, she has to go to bed pretty early as well.
Still Going Strong
The average age of retirement in the United States is 62 years old, but Dolly’s still going strong. She seems busier than ever before, appearing on The Voice, and touring to help promote her new album Pure and Simple. At 74-years old, people often wonder how she still looks so young and glamorous. While a healthy diet and exercise certainly help, Parton’s admitted that she gets help from her plastic surgery team.
Hall Of Fame
In 1999, Parton was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Not only that, but she’s been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, the Nashville Hall of Fame, and the Grammy Hall of Fame. She’s never been inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, although, in 2022, she was finally nominated.
Parton’s fame allowed a pastiche of her to appear in Sesame Street. In the 1990s, Polly Darton, a brand new Muppet, was introduced to the show. The Muppet still had the looks and mannerisms of the famous country singer.
The Greatest Music In Movies
In 2004, AFI released a list of the 100 best songs that appeared in film. Dolly Parton had the honor of having two of her songs on this list, including 9 to 5 at 78th and I Will Always Love You at 65.
Kennedy Center Honor
In 2006, Parton was given a Kennedy Center Honor, one of the most prestigious awards a United States civilian can receive. Parton’s class included people such as Andrew Llord Webber, Zubin Mehta, Smokey Robinson, and Steven Spielberg.
In 1991, Parton had purchased two different Nashville radio stations. They were WSEV 930 AM and WDLY 105.5 FM, the latter of which she rechristened as Dolly’s Station. A portion of the Dollywood theme park was dedicated to the live radio broadcasts every day. That is, until 2000, when Parton sold both of her stations.
In 2009, Parton was nominated for a Best Musical Score Tony Award for the Broadway musical version of her movie 9 to 5. Unfortunately, Parton and her team lost out the music of Next to Normal.
Dolly and Bon Jovi
In 2014, Parton covered Bon Jovi’s 1988 hit Lay Your Hands on Me. She transformed the piece from a hard rocking anthem to a gospel song. Former guitarist and songwriter of Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, also appeared with Parton at numerous concerts to play the song.
Throughout Parton’s career, she’s won 35 different awards. Country Music Awards, Leadership Awards, and even a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Actress. The first cloned sheep was even named after her in 1996. Although, the biggest honor she had is something that can’t exactly fit in a trophy case.
The greatest honor to Dolly Parton was when her face was immortalized in her hometown of Sevierville. They built a statue in her honor. It’s a true testament to the journey that she’s taken and impact that she has made.