Born on January 19, 1946 in Locust Ridge, TN; daughter of Robert Lee and Avie Parton; married Carl Dean, 1966. Addresses: Record company--Sugar Hill Records, P.O. Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717.

American singer and songwriter Dolly Parton was born into poverty but used her talent and determination to become one of the best known women in country and pop music. Her business insight made a well-known theme park and other ventures into a personal empire. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, as older artists found themselves often shut out of the country music mainstream, Parton returned with impressive success to the bluegrass and mountain roots music with which she had grown up.

Dolly Rebecca Parton was born in Locust Ridge, Sevier County, Tennessee, on January 19, 1946. She was the fourth of twelve children born to Robert Lee and Avie Lee Parton. Her father was a sharecropper, farming someone else's land in return for a share of the crop, and the family was very poor. The family moved to a new house when Parton was five years old. The house was rundown and required a lot of work, but Robert Parton was proud to own it. Parton's grandfather was a preacher in a Pentecostal church and the family all played music and sang in the church.

Parton began writing music and playing the guitar when she was seven years old. She would sing everywhere she went, always trying to get her siblings to sit in front of her while she performed. She would even occasionally perform for the chickens, pigs, and ducks. "They didn't applaud much, but with the aid of a little corn, they could be counted on to hang around for a while," she wrote in her autobiography, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. Sometimes she got to sing in front of real audiences when the Parton girls would sing at area churches.

Started Singing Professionally

Parton's uncle, Billy Earl Owens, recognized her musical talent early in her life. He taught her to play the guitar and songwriting. In 1956, he brought her to the attention of Cas Walker. Walker owned a grocery store chain and used a show on the radio to promote his stores. When she was ten years old, Parton sang on the show in front of a live audience in Knoxville, Tennessee. The crowd cheered. "At that very moment I fell in love with the public. This was what I had always wanted--no, needed. It was the attention I had longed for. I knew what they were giving me. Now I had confidence in what I had to give them," she wrote.

Parton desperately wanted to sing at the Grand Ole Opry, but it was difficult to get a spot on the program. Then, when she was twelve years old, Jimmy C. Newman gave her his spot, and she got her chance.

Henry Owens, Parton's uncle, was in the service in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and lived next door to Gold Band Records recording studio. He became friends with the owner and arranged for Parton to come down and make a recording. In 1960, she recorded two songs that she had written with her Uncle Bill, "Puppy Love" and "Girl Left Alone."

Parton became determined to find success. One day, when she was sixteen years old, she and her Uncle Bill waited all day at Tree Publishing until someone would see them. The waiting paid off, and when they got their appointment that evening, they signed a deal and Parton got a recording session with Mercury Records in 1962. She recorded "It May Not Kill Me (But It's Sure Gonna Hurt)" and "I Wasted My Tears (When I Cried Over You)." She was thrilled when she heard it play on WIVK, the Knoxville radio station.

Parton began to create her image. "I always wanted to be prettier," she said, according to People. "I got to fixin' myself up. I wanted my clothes tight, my makeup bright, my nails long, my lips red. I got into it."

Moved to Nashville

In 1964, Parton was the first person in her family to graduate from high school and the very next day she headed for Nashville, Tennessee. "Early next morning I boarded a Greyhound bus with my dreams, my old guitar, the songs I had written, and the rest of my belongings in a set of matching luggage--three paper bags from the same grocery store. I had asked whatever relatives could afford to give me a graduation gift to please make it cash. I didn't want any additional baggage, and I knew I would need the money for a grub stake until I became a star. I genuinely thought that would happen before my little bit of money ran out," she wrote.

Parton rented a tiny apartment over a laundromat called the Wishy Washy. Soon after she moved in, she was outside, waiting for her clothes to dry, when a man drove by and stopped to chat. His name was Carl Thomas Dean. He stopped by several more times and finally asked her out on a date. On their first date, he took her to his parents' house for dinner. He told his mother, "Fix this girl a plate," wrote Parton. "She's the one I'm going to marry."

Parton got her first big break with Fred Foster who signed her and her Uncle Bill to a deal. Foster invested in Parton, buying her clothes and promoting her career by securing appearances on American Bandstand and at a jukebox convention in Chicago.

Parton and Carl decided to get married, but Foster warned against it, thinking she might have more record-buying appeal if she was single. Parton told Foster she would wait, but then she and Carl secretly got married in Ringgold, Georgia, on May 30, 1966, at the Ringgold Baptist Church. They kept it a secret for a year.

Made It Big

In 1967, Parton's hit "Dumb Blonde" made it into the top ten on the country charts. This caught the attention of Porter Wagoner, who had a country music show on television. He asked Parton to sing on his show for $60,000 a year. Parton knew that she had found success.

Parton's relationship with Wagoner was tumultuous. He taught her a lot about entertaining and was generous with information. "I could sing when I met Porter. After knowing him, I knew how to perform," wrote Parton in her book. However, she also resented Wagoner's need to control her career, pushing her uncles out of the way. He also pressured her to leave Monument Records and sign with RCA, which she eventually did. Despite the rocky relationship, Parton stayed with Wagoner through 1974, and Wagoner did a lot to launch her career. He continued to produce her records until 1977.

In 1970, Parton released "Joshua," which was a big hit. In 1971, both "Joshua" and "Old Time Preacher Man" won Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) Awards. "I have since won many awards and honors, but those still stand out as special," Parton wrote in her book.

In 1973, Parton released "Jolene," and in 1974, she released "I Will Always Love You" and "Love is like a Butterfly." Along with "Joshua," these hit number one on the country charts. Between 1968 and 1972, she released an amazing 21 albums and each of those years she was nominated by the Country Music Association as Female Vocalist of the Year. After this success, the time had come to leave Wagoner. She received the same nomination every year from 1974 to 1979. Two songs were written with Porter Wagoner in mind. "I Will Always Love You" was written in appreciation of all he had taught her. "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" was written when she finally made her decision to go out on her own.

Crossed Over To Pop

Parton put together the Traveling Family Band, made up mostly of family members, and headed out to face the world. She did find success, but she also found that although she made a lot of money, it was not enough to meet all her staff expenses. Therefore, she started her own publishing company, increased her public relations, started considering movie roles, and searched for songs with the potential to cross over from country into pop.

In 1976, Parton started her own television show, "Dolly!" The show was not very successful, but a few good things did come out of it. First, one of the shows featured Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. "The three of us really got comfortable with just us, our voices and guitars. The result was some of the most unspoiled, pure country music I have ever been a part of. It was a forerunner of our Trio album," Parton wrote. Kenny Rogers also appeared on the show, and he and Parton later worked together on several other projects.

In 1980, Jane Fonda sent Parton a script for the movie Nine to Five. Initially, she was reluctant to take it since she did not have any training in acting. Her agent, Sandy Gallin, and Fonda both encouraged her to take it. She enjoyed it and received an Oscar nomination for writing the title song, as well as two Grammys for Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

In conjunction with starring in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1982, Parton re-released "I Will Always Love You." She was the first performer to hit number one twice with the same song. In 1983, she starred in Rhinestone and received a Grammy nomination for the song "Tennessee Homesick Blues." Teaming with Kenny Rogers for "Islands in the Stream" brought her another pop smash. She starred in Steel Magnolias in 1989.

In 1986, Parton founded Dollywood, a theme park near her hometown. Then, in 1988, just outside of Dollywood, she opened the Dixie Stampede & Dinner Show. The Dixie Stampede & Dinner Show was such a success that she proceeded to open additional locations in Branson, Missouri (1992); Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (1995); and Orlando, Florida (2003).

In 1996, Parton started a literacy program in her hometown called the Imagination Library. It provided one book each month to children from birth to their fifth birthday. The program quickly spread throughout the nation. In 2000, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) presented Parton with one of its first AAP Honors and Awards, which is presented to someone outside the industry for promoting books and authors.

Parton's albums of the late 1980s and 1990s were a varied lot, often involving collaborations with other artists. In 1987 a long-rumored collaboration with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt was released under the title Trio, and another album with Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, Honky Tonk Angels, followed in 1993. Parton's live 1994 album Heartsongs, recorded at Dollywood, featured an appearance by the Irish folk group Altan, and on the Treasures CD of 1996 she teamed with the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo for a remake of the Cat Stevens hit "Peace Train," later a worldwide hit in dance remixes. A host of Parton and Parton-Wagoner greatest-hits collections appeared in the 1990s, and in 1999, Parton became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

That honor didn't bring Parton airtime on country radio, however. She became one of a group of artists who were outspoken in their criticism of country radio programmers for ignoring the older generation of country artists. Rather than just criticizing, though, Parton also offered a creative response to her predicament: she signed with the small Sugar Hill label and recorded several bluegrass and roots-oriented CDs, including The Grass Is Blue (1999), Little Sparrow (2001, featuring a version of Collective Soul's "Shine" that gained airplay following the terrorist attacks of that year), Halos & Horns (2002), and the patriotic collection For God and Country (2003). "I had to get rich in order to afford to sing like I was poor again," Parton told Interview. In 2003, Parton was honored by other country music stars with a tribute CD entitled Just Because I'm a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton, sung by female country and pop stars including Melissa Etheridge, Shania Twain, and Norah Jones. In turn, she sang a duet with Jones, "Creepin' In," on Jones's 2004 CD Feels Like Home.

In 2004, Parton was honored once more by the Library of Congress, with its Living Legend award. Parton has no plans of retiring. As quoted in America's Intelligence Wire Parton said, "I'll be like Bob Hope, touring when I'm 100." Having written thousands of songs, Parton could also look back on a lifetime of influence on the country music tradition. As Emmylou Harris told People in 2003, "I can't imagine anybody, especially in country, who doesn't try to emulate Dolly in some way."

by B. Kimberly Taylor and Ken Burke

Dolly Parton's Career

Signed to Mercury label at age 14; signed to Monument Records, 1965; single "Dumb Blonde" reached top 25, 1967; signed to RCA label; released "Joshua," first Number One single, 1970; released "I Will Always Love You," 1974; cultivated pop career as well as country; reached pop Number One with "Here You Come Again," 1977; starred in film 9 to 5 and released his song with same title, 1980; recorded Trio album with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, 1987; Whitney Houston recorded "I Will Always Love You," 1992; released Honky Tonk Angels album with Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, 1993; published autobiography, My Life and Other Unfinished Business, 1994; signed with bluegrass-oriented Sugar Hill label; released albums The Grass Is Blue, Little Sparrow, and Halos & Horns; tribute album Just Because I'm a Woman released, 2003.

Dolly Parton's Awards

Country Music Award, Vocal Group of the Year (with Porter Wagoner), 1968, 1970, 1971; Country Music Award, Female Vocalist of the Year, 1975, 1976; Country Music Award, Entertainer of the Year, 1978; Grammy Award, Best Country Vocal Performance, Female, "9 to 5," 1981; Grammy Award, Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, Trio (with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris), 1988; Country Music Award, Vocal Event of the Year, Trio (with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris), 1988; Country Music Award, Vocal Event of the Year, "I Will Always Love You," 1996; Grammy Award, Best Country Collaboration With Vocals, "After the Gold Rush" (with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris), 1999; Grammy Award, Best Bluegrass Album, The Grass is Blue (with Gary Paczosa and Steve Buckingham), 2000; Grammy Award, Best Female Country Vocal Performance, "Shine," 2001; Living Legend award, United States Library of Congress, 2003.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

November 10, 2005: Parton received the 2005 National Medal of the Arts at a ceremony in the Oval Office on November 10. Source: New York Times, www.nytimes.com, November 10, 2005.

April 10, 2006: Parton shared the Country Music Television Award with Brad Paisley for inspiring video for When I Get Where I'm Going. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/Music/04/11/cmt.awards.ap/index.html, April 19, 2006.

May 23, 2006: Parton won two Academy of Country Music Awards, including video of the year and video event of the year, for "When I Get Where I'm Going" with Brad Paisley. Source: Academy of Country Music, www.acmcountry.com/content/index.php, May 28, 2006.

September 6, 2006: Parton was named as a Kennedy Center honoree. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com, September 6, 2006.

Further Reading

Sources

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 9 years ago

Dolly parton is an angle i am her biggest fan. Even if she wasnt famous I would still love her. My favorite song she sings with sylvester stallone in the movie rhinestone is stay out of my bedroom. Its not a day without watching that movie. In a few days I might sing at marcs landing (guilfod lake) Ohio hopefully i sound as good as her. By the way if you can help me become a singer please email me at mandyandtripp@netlink.net I wont dissappoint you.

about 10 years ago

i love her music soo much

about 10 years ago

Her music can lift you up in no time at all, sp.her songs along with Kenny Rogers. I am her greatest admirer. Rodney