17 Facts About Dolly Parton’s Trailblazing Career
Dolly Parton is a singer, songwriter, record producer, author, actress, businesswoman and philanthropist, and she does it all well. Her career began as a songwriter in Nashville. Today she estimates she’s written more than 3,000 songs.
She’s known as The Smoky Mountain Songbird, The Queen of Country, Backwoods Barbie and the Leading Lady of Country, but, really, if someone says “Dolly,” you probably know who they’re talking about.
Parton’s signature platinum blonde hair, twinkling blue eyes, short stature, voluptuous figure and Southern accent may have played a part in her success. Mostly, though, her talent and pleasant personality were at the roots of her achievements. Come along and follow her career journey over the last 72 years.
She Didn’t Grow up With Money
Born Dolly Rebecca Parton on January 19, 1946, to Lee Parton and Avie Lee Parton (née Owens). Her father worked as a tobacco farmer and her mother stayed at home.
Parton grew up with 11 siblings, six brothers and five sisters. They all lived on a ramshackle farm in Sevierville, Tennessee. “Avie Lee poured her heart and soul into raising her children,” says Parton on her namesake website.
Enveloped by Music
During her childhood, Parton was surrounded by music. Her mother sang and played the guitar, and in Parton’s Library of Congress biography, she says all “her people” played fiddles, mandolins, banjos or guitars. She and her brothers and sisters were used to having these musical instruments within easy reach, and Parton developed a special affinity for the banjo.
Parton Made Her First Recording at 11
At age 11, Parton and her uncle, Bill Owens, wrote “Puppy Love.” The song, relatable to her age, described the hot and cold emotions felt with young love. She and her grandmother, Rena Owens, rode a bus for 30 hours to a recording studio in Lake Charles, Louisiana, so Parton could record the single.
Parton described how the bus smelled on her website: “It was a combination of diesel fuel, Naugahyde, and people who were going places.” When she was 13, “Puppy Love” was released by Goldband Records.
Her Earliest Grand Ole Opry Performance
In 1959 Parton and her uncle secured a guest spot on the Grand Ole Opry. After Johnny Cash introduced her, she made her way to the Ryman Auditorium stage to sing, alongside her uncle, a rendition of George Jones’s “You Gotta Be My Baby.”
Cupid Struck in Nashville
After high school graduation and bolstered by her success to that point, Parton packed her bags and headed to Nashville, then known as the songwriting capital of the world.
As is the case with many of the city’s new inhabitants, she hoped her country singing music career would take off. As the legend goes on her first day in town, in 1964, she met Carl Dean at the Wishy Washy laundromat. She had vowed to singularly focus on her career and not include any men in that picture. However, Dean fully supported her dream, so two years later she married him. They are still a couple today.
Her Husband Prefers Solitude
Dean, the polar opposite of Parton, likes to stay out of the limelight. That’s why he doesn’t accompany her to awards ceremonies and you rarely see them together. Parton says there are a few places that he’s comfortable going where nobody bothers them. Being apart frequently is also their secret to a long marriage, she says.
She Made Her Album Debut in 1967
She cut her first record album, “Hello, I’m Dolly,” in 1967, less than three years after graduating high school. The album boasted three songs Parton had written that other artists — Bill Phillips, Skeeter Davis and Hank Williams — had already made into hits. This album also drew Porter Wagoner’s attention.
Parton Joined “The Porter Wagoner Show”
In late 1967, three years after moving to Nashville, Parton became a regular on “The Porter Wagoner Show,” a syndicated TV program. She replaced Norma Jean, who left the show to get married and move back to Oklahoma.
Country singer Wagoner was known for his jokes, rhinestone-studded suits and his pompadour. Parton and Wagoner began recording duets, including their No. 1 hit, “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me.”
She’s Won Hordes of Awards
Some say she reached her peak on the charts in the 1970s and 1980s. Her honors include 25 Recording Industry Association of America certified gold, platinum and multi-platinum records. Twenty-five of her songs have reached No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts.
Additionally, nine Grammy Awards, two Academy Award nominations, seven Academy of Country Music Awards and three American Music Awards all have her name of them.
Parton Graces the Big Screen
Parton made her acting debut in 1980 in the hit “9 to 5,” starring alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. The three women faced a sexist, bigoted boss and found a way to defeat him.
The theme song “9 to 5,” written and performed by Parton, won two Grammy awards and numerous other awards, as well as an Oscar nomination.
She Becomes a Film Presence
“9 to 5” led to her roles in several other major movies, including “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Steel Magnolias,” and “Rhinestone.”
“Islands in the Stream” Breaks Out
In 1983, Parton and Kenny Rogers recorded “Islands in the Stream,” destined to be ranked the No. 1 duet of all time on the CMT 100 Greatest Duets.
Fun fact: Rogers didn’t even like the song until he performed it with Parton.
Another fun fact: Parton didn’t write the song. It was written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.
Parton Opens a Theme Park
Singing, songwriting, acting and TV appearances apparently weren’t keeping Parton busy enough, so in 1986 she and Herschend Family Entertainment opened Dollywood, an entertainment venue in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Dollywood features amusement park rides, live performances, Southern food, and demonstrations by master craftsmen and craftswomen. And the park never stagnates. Guests are offered something new every season.
She Loves the Wee Hours
How does Parton do it all? She goes to bed early and rises at 3 a.m. That’s her time for meditations and tapping into her spirituality. She then reviews her schedule for the day.
Parton says she gets more done in the first four hours of her morning than most people do all day. She’s often thinking of ways to express her generosity.
Parton Gives Away Books
Inspired by her father who couldn’t read, Parton began the Imagination Library in 1995. Her original idea was to give preschool children in her home county in Tennessee a free selected book every month, hoping to promote a love a reading in those kids.
Today the program reaches into four countries. More than one million books make their way to children around the world every month. She recently donated her 100 millionth children’s book.
Enjoy Some Parton-isms
A look at Dolly Parton’s career wouldn’t be complete without some of her humorous sayings. Here are a few:
* “I’m not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I know that I’m not dumb. I also know that I’m not blonde.”
* “I describe my look as a blend of Mother Goose, Cinderella and the local hooker!”
* “It takes a lot of money to make a person look this cheap!”
* “After Momma gave birth to twelve of us kids, we put her up on a pedestal. It was mostly to keep Daddy away from her.”
And a good motto for all of us: “I feel blessed that I still have little Dolly in my heart. I’m still the same girl that wants to squeeze every little drop out of life that I can.”
What’s Parton Doing Now?
Netflix has an eight-episode Dolly Parton anthology series planned for 2019. Each episode will focus on one of her songs. Besides working as the executive producer on the project, Parton will make select appearances.
On her website she says, “We hope our show will inspire and entertain families and folks of all generations.”