One of the greatest and most influential female personalities in the music industry is the legendary Dolly Parton. Her voice and talent are incomparable and distinct from other artists, making her truly one of a kind. In addition, her charm and her big personality stand out as her biggest asset among all. These make her a woman of great achievement that even words in the dictionary are not enough to describe her.
Last Saturday, Jan. 19th, the “America’s Sweetheart” celebrated her 73rd birthday and what a way to honor her but to relive 73 years of her fruitful life. She was more than just a woman. In fact, Dolly is a multi-faceted artist who can do almost everything. She is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, author, businesswoman, humanitarian, philanthropist, and actress. But most importantly, she is an amazing wife to Carl Dean and a mother to many even though she is not blood-related to them.
Well, what more could you ask for from a Dolly Parton? She is among the queens of country music who dedicated her life to giving entertainment and authentic country sound. Hence, let us reminisce the life that she has lived. It was never perfect, but it was all worth it and everything was on the right place.
The Birth of a Dolly Parton
Born on January 19, 1946, Dolly Rebecca Parton, more popularly known as Dolly Parton, spent her childhood in a small cabin on the banks of the Little Pigeon River in Tennessee. Coming from a big family of 12 children, Dolly and her family lived in a very small community located in Sevier County in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. She is the fourth child.
Her parents were Avie Lee Caroline and Robert Lee Parton Sr. Her father, Robert Sr., first worked in the mountains of East Tennessee as a sharecropper. Later, he tended his own small farm and acreage. Working for a family of twelve children, it was certainly difficult for Mr. Parton to make ends meet. Worse, he could neither read nor write. Despite his lack of formal education, Dolly still considers her dad as one of the smartest people she has known.
On the other hand, her mom was a homemaker for the large family. She was an incredible woman as proven by her eleven pregnancies (with her tenth pregnancy being twins). This made her a mother of twelve at 35 years of age. Mrs. Parton was sickly as she was often in poor health. However, she still managed to keep their house and entertain her children with songs and tales of mountain folklore.
Her Parents, Her Inspiration
With all these, Dolly has looked up to and praised her parents. She has long credited her father for her being business savvy, while her mom for her talent in music.
While she was still very young, Dolly’s parents moved their growing family to a farm on nearby Locust Ridge. Most of her cherished memories happened there. Hence, it was the inspiration why she conceived her song, “My Tennessee Mountain Home.” In the 1980s, Dolly went back to the same exact place and bought the area. That was the place that made her childhood and teenage years very memorable. Sadly, two of her brother are no longer living. Her younger brother, Larry, died shortly after birth in 1955 while Floyd, her other younger brother, passed away in 2018.
Dolly’s Success in Music
Sixty years ago, Dolly Parton officially started pursuing her career in music. As early as a child, she was a fan of country music. However, she did not just stick to the same genre. She also ventured into other genres of music such as bluegrass, pop, and gospel. Ultimately, her talent was not just concentrated on her voice. In fact, she can play a lot of instruments, too. She plays the guitar, banjo, piano, autoharp, fiddle, violin, Appalachian dulcimer, harmonica, and saxophone. Indeed, she is one talented multi-instrumentalist.
In 1967, country music entertainer Porter Wagoner invited Parton to join his organization. He offered her a regular spot on his weekly syndicated television program, The Porter Wagoner Show.
As documented in her 1994 autobiography, Parton revealed that many of Wagoner’s audience was unhappy when Norma Jean had left his show. Jean was a country music singer whom Parton replaced in the show. She also said that sometimes the crowd became unruly that they even chanted loudly for Norma Jean.
With Wagoner’s assistance, Parton was eventually accepted. Also, Wagoner convinced his label, RCA Victor, to sign her. RCA then released a single, a duet from Parton and Wagoner. The song was a remake of Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing on My Mind.” It was released in 1967, and it reached the country top 10 the following year.
Working with RCA Victor
Dolly Parton’s first solo single for RCA Victor was “Just Because I’m a Woman.” It was released in the summer of 1968 and was a moderate chart hit, reaching number 17. For the remainder of the decade, none of her solo effort – even “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).” It later became a standard and was as successful as her duets with Wagoner. The duo was named Vocal Group of the Year in 1968 by the Country Music Association, but Parton’s solo records were continually ignored. Wagoner had a significant financial stake in her future. As of 1969, he was her co-producer and owned nearly half of Owe-Par, the publishing company Parton had founded with Bill Owens.
By 1970, both Parton and Wagoner had grown frustrated by her lack of solo chart success. Wagoner persuaded Parton to record Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mule Skinner Blues”, a gimmick that worked. The record shot to number three, followed closely, in February 1971, by her first number-one single, “Joshua”. For the next two years, she had numerous solo hits – including her signature song “Coat of Many Colors” (number four, 1971) – in addition to her duets. Top-20 singles included “The Right Combination” and “Burning the Midnight Oil” (both duets with Wagoner, 1971); “Lost Forever in Your Kiss”, (with Wagoner) “Touch Your Woman”, (1972) “My Tennessee Mountain Home” and “Travelin’ Man” (1973).
Venturing Into Pop Music
From the mid-‘70s to the early ‘80s, Parton consistently charted in the country Top 10. Eight of these songs were hits and reached No. 1.
Parton had her own syndicated television variety show, Dolly! (1976–77) During this period, many performers, including Rose Maddox, Kitty Wells, Olivia Newton-John, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt covered her songs. Her siblings Randy and Stella both received recording contracts of their own. During this period, Parton began to embark on a high-profile crossover campaign, attempting to aim her music in a more mainstream direction and increase her visibility outside of the confines of country music. In 1976, she began working closely with Sandy Gallin, who served as her personal manager for the next 25 years.
With her 1976 album All I Can Do, which she co-produced with Porter Wagoner, Parton began taking more of an active role in production, and began specifically aiming her music in a more mainstream, pop direction. Her first entirely self-produced effort, New Harvest…First Gathering (1977), highlighted her pop sensibilities, both in terms of choice of songs – the album contained covers of the pop and R&B classics “My Girl” and “Higher and Higher” – and production. Though the album was well received and topped the U.S. country albums chart, neither it nor its single “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” made much of an impression on the pop charts.
Dolly’s 10 Greatest Songs
There is no doubt that during the 60-year career of Dolly Parton, she has released a plethora of hit after hit records. There is a lot to be included but the writer has decided to just pick 10 of the most well-known songs of Parton.
“I Will Always Love You” (1974)
“9 to 5” (1980)
“Islands in the Stream” (ft. Kenny Rogers, 1983)
“Coat of Many Colors” (1971)
“Here You Come Again” (1977)
“Two Doors Down” (1977)
“Love is Like a Butterfly” (1974)
“Tennessee Homesick Blues” (1982)
“It’s All Wrong But It’s All Right” (1977)
More Than a Singer
Dolly has been an incredible woman who has done a lot of things. Not just an amazing singer, she is also a prolific songwriter. She began her career in songwriting by writing country songs with strong elements of folk music. She was inspired by her upbringing in humble mountain surroundings, and by reflecting her family’s Christian background. Her most famous self-penned hits are “Coat of Many Colors,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “Jolene.” All of these have become all-time classics and standards in the music field.
In 2003, Parton received a BMI Icon award. It was her 35th BMI award for pop and country music throughout her songwriting career. Earlier in 2001, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In addition to her appearing on TV with Wagoner on The Porter Wagoner Show, Parton has two self-titled television variety shows. In 1979, she received an Emmy award nomination as “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Variety Program.” She first had her variety show called Dolly! In 1976-77. It received high ratings, however, it only lasted for one season. Parton requested to be released from her contract because of the stress it was causing on her vocal cords. Later, she attempted to pilot her second TV variety show also titled Dolly in 1987. Unfortunately, it, too, only lasted for one season.
In 1980, Parton portrayed a secretary in a leading role with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the comedy film 9 to 5. The movie highlights the discrimination of women in a working environment and created awareness of the National Association of Working Women. With this, she later received nominations for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year – Actress.
Awards and Accolades
While there were a number of women who have come before and after her, Parton remains to be one of the most honored female country performers of all time. RIAA has certified 25 of her single or album releases as either Gold, Platinum, or Multi-Platinum. In total, she has had 26 songs that have reached No. 1 on the Billboard country charts. This is a record for a female artist.
Moreover, Parton has received nine Grammy Awards, including her 2011 Lifetime Achievement Grammy. Also, she has had a total of 46 Grammy Award nominations. It is the most nominations of any female artist in the history of the prestigious awards, a record tied by Beyoncé.
On the other hand, she has won three awards out of 18 nominations. At the Country Music Association, she has won 10 awards out of 42 nominations. At the Academy of Country Music, she has won seven awards and 39 nominations. She is one of only six female artists (including Reba McEntire, Barbara Mandrell, Shania Twain, Loretta Lynn, and Taylor Swift), to win the Country Music Association’s highest honor, Entertainer of the Year (1978). She also has been nominated for two Academy Awards and a Tony Award. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her appearance in a 1978 Cher television special.
Also, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her music in 1984; a star on the Nashville Star Walk for Grammy winners; and a bronze sculpture on the courthouse lawn in Sevierville. She has called that statue of herself in her hometown “the greatest honor,” because it came from the people who knew her. Parton was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1969. In 1986, she was named one of Ms. Magazine’s Women of the Year. In the same year, she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.