Upclosed staff | Dec 23, 2017

Hello I'm Dolly: A look at the life of Dolly Parton

The life story of Dolly Parton is a true rags-to-riches story, and it's a no ordinary one -- it has been made into television movies and is also part of a thesis course at the University of Tennessee.

Born to a poor family on January 19, 1946, in Tennessee, Parton is one of the twelve children of Robert Parton and Avie Lee Caroline (1923 – 2003.) Her father was a farmer and construction worker, and mother, a homemaker.

Her singing talent was noticed and appreciated when she was very young -- by ten, she had sung on local Tennessee radio and was appearing on The Cas Walker Show in Knoxville, Tennessee. In 1959, when she was thirteen, she first met Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to continue on the path chosen.

After school, in 1964, she moved to the country music capital of the world, Nashville, to embark on a career as a singer. She met Carl Dean in 1942, in Nashville. The couple married in 1966, in Ringgold, Georgia. She was 20 at the time, and Carl was 23 –– the couple is still going strong. 

Before singing, she began working as a songwriter and came in the spotlight with hits such as "Put It Off Until Tomorrow" (1966) by Bill Phillips and "Fuel to the Flame" (1967,) by Skeeter Davis. In 1965, she got a chance to release a few singles as a singer, but the songs met with moderate success. In 1967, her first country single, "Dumb Blonde" (composed by Curly Putman), reached number 24 on the country chart. Shortly after, another song, "Something Fishy,"  peaked at number 17 on the country chart. Her first studio album, "Hello, I'm Dolly," (released. February 1967) included the two songs.

The same year, her success landed her a job at the television program "The Porter Wagoner Show" by the country music entertainer Porter Wagoner. With Wagoner, in late 1967, she released a duet "The Last Thing on My Mind" (originally sung by Tom Paxton,) which reached the country top ten in early 1968. 

During the late 70s, she continued to gain success and fame as the musical companion of Wagoner, however, initially, her efforts as a solo singer were largely ignored. She didn't become the star that she was until she covered Jimmie Rodgers's "Mule Skinner Blues" in the late 1970-early 1971 - the song shot to number three on the chart. Shortly after, in February 1971, her first number-one single, "Joshua". In the following years, she had quite a few solo and duet hits – including "Coat of Many Colors" (1971,) "Touch Your Woman" (1972,) and "My Tennessee Mountain Home" (1973.)

In the mid-seventies, she left Wagoner to pursue a solo career in entertainment.  Her solo career worked out well for her and she consistently charted in the country Top 10, with eight reaching the number one spot. For the album "Here You Come Again" Parton won a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, in 1978. Her commercial success continued to soar and her songs were covered by various well-known performers of the time, including Rose MaddoxKitty WellsOlivia Newton-JohnEmmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt

She appeared on various television shows such as Barbara Walters Special in 1977 and Cher's ABC television special in 1978 on Cher's. She then went on to host her own show with Carol Burnett, "Carol and Dolly," on CBS. She, along with Roy Clark and Glen Campbell, hosted CBS special "Fifty Years of Country Music." She also appeared in several movies. In her debut movie, 9 to 5, alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, Parton received nominations for a Golden Globe for Best Actress and a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year – Actress. In 1984, she appeared with Sylvester Stallone in the movie Rhinestone.

Musically, her greatest commercial success of the decade came when she recorded "I Will Always Love You" with Whitney Houston, for the soundtrack of The Bodyguard (1992.) With a successful career in country music behind, she ventured into bluegrass music. Her bluegrass-inspired album, "The Grass Is Blue" (1999,) won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, and the album "Little Sparrow (2001,) won a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Outside of singing and acting, Dolly is also a successful businesswoman. In 1986, she partnered with Herschend family to open Dollywood (formerly Silver Dollar City), a theme park in the Knoxville-Smoky Mountains metroplex in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Besides the park, she also owns dinner theatre, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, and the waterpark, Dollywood's Splash Country, both in Pigeon Forge. As a philanthropist, Parton manages a literacy program, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. The program mails one book per month to each enrolled child from the time of their birth until they enter kindergarten. 

For her work in entertainment, business and philanthropy, Parton has received numerous accolades. Notable honors include

  • Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1986)
  • East Tennessee Hall of Fame (1988)
  • Country Music Hall of Fame (1999)
  • Songwriters Hall of Fame (2001)
  • Junior Achievement of East Tennessee Business Hall of Fame (2003)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame – "I Will Always Love You – 1974 Recording" (2007)
  • Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2009)
  • Music City Walk of Fame (2009)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame – "Jolene – 1974 Recording" (2014)
  • The National Hall of Fame for Mountain Artisans (2014)
  • The Happiness Hall of Fame (2016)

Trivia


Parton can play at least eight musical instruments. 

Noted film critic, Roger Ebert, once said:

...but when I was interviewing Dolly Parton, I almost felt like she had healing powers.

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