Music runs deep into Dolly Parton’s family home. We have their parents, Robert and Avie Lee Parton, to thank for rearing and raising one of the genre’s most legendary families. In all, Dolly Parton has 12 siblings.
Dolly Parton’s siblings in order are: Willadeene, David Wilburn, Coy Denver, Robert Lee, Stella Mae, Cassie Nan, Randel Huston “Randy,” Larry Gerald, Estel Floyd, and the two youngest girls, Freida Estelle and Rachel Ann, are twins.
The big family grew up in a one-bedroom cabin, with neither electricity nor indoor plumbing, in a tiny community Smoky Mountains in Tennessee’s Sevier County in their early years. Later on, they relocated to a four-bedroom home in Franklin, Tennessee.
Dolly Parton’s siblings had next to nothing back then, but what they have was a passion for music, instilled in them by their mother. Let’s get to know more about them today.
Being the eldest, she tends to act as the second mother to her younger siblings. But unlike most of Dolly Parton’s siblings, Willadeene did not pursue the entertainment industry. But the eldest Parton child contributed to the family’s empire through books.
In 1996, Willadeene wrote the Parton family memoir “Smoky Mountain Memories: Stories from the Hearts of the Parton Family.” Another book followed it in 1997; this time, it was a cookbook titled “All-Day Singing & Dinner on the Ground.”
Stella Mae Parton
Dolly Parton’s sisters are equally talented as her. Stella, for instance, is both a famous actress and musician. But if you think she had an easy ride on the back of her famous sister, well think again, Stella did no such thing.
When Dolly was making her mark on the country music scene, Stella moved to Nashville together with two of Dolly Parton’s siblings, to record gospel music for an indie gospel label named Inspiration Records. Stella said she never considered asking for Dolly’s help, even though Dolly’s was already on the rise.
“Well, I always never tried to be a burden on her,” Stella said. “I’ve never been on her coattails. I love her too much to do that.”
But it wasn’t smooth sailing for Stella. She was only 15 when she left home and got married 17. She became a mother at 17 and got divorced by the time she turned 21. Her life was rather more turbulent. Worse, her Uncle, who helped Dolly became a star, discouraged her.
“I had my one-year-old son Tim with me,” Stella recalled, “and my uncle pointed at us and said, ‘You need to take that kid of yours and go back to work in the beauty shop where you belong.'”
But what’s even more painful, Stella said that Dolly, who was also at the meeting, quietly added: “Well, Stella, if you’re going to sing, you need to change your name from Parton. “
“They thought I’d be a threat to my sister if I continued to sing,” Stella said.
“When I was told to change my name, I felt like my birthright was being taken. But I’ve forgiven all of that now. I think Dolly felt helpless, and I’m sure it confused her, as at that time, she was still a little girl herself. We were just young women, sisters, being pitted against each other.”
But Stella refused to give up. Being a fighter that she was, Stella formed her own label to release her 1975 single, “I Want to Hold You in My Dreams Tonight,” which landed in the Billboard Top 10. Yes, she indie before indie even became a thing.
And this meant Stella did not only had to record and produce the album by herself but also had to promote and distribute it too. Take note this all happed when major labels controlled the music scene. Indeed, Dolly Parton’s siblings are nothing but impressive.
She was driven by her need to succeed. “What inspired me was necessity,” Stella recalled. “I had to have a hit before I could get a record deal.” Luckily, her hard work paid off as it led her to record her iconic hit, “I Want to Hold You in My Dreams Tonight.” Stella also went on to sign with Elektra Records, who she recorded three albums. TV guest appearances also followed; Stella even landed a guest spot on The Duke of Hazzard as Mary Beth Malone.
Today, Stella is celebrating over five decades in the entertainment industry as an award-winning international singer, songwriter, actress, author, and producer. She released her 40th studio album, “Survivor,” which featured eight of Stella’s original songs, which includes “I Ain’t Leavin’ ‘Til I’m Even,” – her collaboration with Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Wayne Carson.
Each of the tracks in the album “Survivor” aimed to address a different issue from the #MeToo movement as well as drug abuse to Alzheimer’s disease and divorce. The eight among the Dolly Parton’s siblings now speaks out against domestic violence. She also established a three-day event known as the Red Tent Women’s Conference to shed light on the issue.
“A singer should be able to touch the listener with ‘three chords and the truth’ as Harlan Howard used to say,” Stella said. “That was my approach to writing and recording this project, and I hope that these songs inspire anyone that hears them to press on through whatever challenges or opposition they find themselves up against—because we are all survivors!”
In addition to that, the album also paid tribute to challenging roots of Dolly Parton’s siblings, which they credited as the catalyst for their successes.
Cassie Nan Parton
Cassie is also a singer and a performer, though she’s a bit more low-key compared to other Dolly Parton’s siblings. She performed in the Dollywood show “My People” in 2013 with her brother Randy.
Randel Huston “Randy” Parton
Randy is among Dolly Parton’s siblings who pursued music too. In addition to playing bass for Dolly, he also sang a song for the Rhinestone soundtrack, which Dolly starred in 1984.
In 2007, Randy had a contract with Roanoke Rapids City to perform and manage a theater bearing his name. The Randy Parton Theatre is a 35,000-square foot, 1,500-seat facility. It was to anchor an entertainment district including shops, motels, restaurants, and family recreational activities.
City officials had bet on Randy’s ability to manage the theater competently and attract enough customers to cover expenses. Randy was paid $1.5 million per year “artist fee” and will be provided with an “acceptable” fully furnished home and an “acceptable” vehicle.
The first shows were well-attended. However, the number of empty seats grew steadily over the next few months. Some nights fewer than 100 people showed up to watch. The relationship between Randy and the city soured even more, when he was getting ready to take the stage, but the city officials determined he was under the influence of alcohol and sent him home. Randy never performed at the theater again.
Larry Gerald Parton
Sadly, Larry Parton passed away four days after his birth in July 1955, when Dolly was just 9. Dolly Parton’s siblings are absolutely as sad as her. Dolly said, “there is a lot of heartache and stuff that goes on” with his brother’s death at a very young age. In 2015, NBC released a holiday movie about the early life of the country superstar, including emotional scenes that depicted the death of Larry.
One scene includes a young Parton, played by an American child actress, sitting near the gravesite, and singing a song inspired by her fallen brother. Parton admitted that relieving the tragedy was difficult.
“All things are hard, but that is what makes your memories. That is what makes you who and what you are,” she said.
Estel Floyd Parton
Floyd was Dolly’s youngest brother and her longtime songwriting partner. The two collaborated in writing several songs over Dolly’s career spanning decades. He famously wrote her hit “Rockin’ Years” from the album “Eagle When She Flies,” and co-wrote with Dolly “Nickels and Dimes” from Heartbreaker.
Sadly, he died on December 6, 2018. He was 61. His obituary reads: “A renaissance man, Floyd was a man of many talents and areas of knowledge. He was an avid outdoorsman and had abundant knowledge of nature as well as being an incredible cook.”
Dolly Parton’s siblings sang Floyd’s lovely song, ‘Rockin’ Years,’ together as a family at the service to say goodbye to him. “He lived a short life of love and beautiful songs,” the family said.
The cause of the songwriter’s death has not been revealed, but Radar Online reported that the songwriter was hospitalized after Thanksgiving due to severe illness and was in a critical condition.
Freida Estelle Parton
Freida is among Dolly Parton’s siblings, who was determined to make a name for herself on her own terms. She has successfully done this by releasing the hard rock album “Two Faced” in 1984.
At the age of 13, Freida already moved to Nashville and lived with her sister Dolly to make a name for herself in the music industry. While still a teenager, she married Mark Andersen, who later became a member of Dolly’s backing band.
She collaborated with her husband and wrote “Sing for the Common Man” on Dolly’s “9 to 5 and Odd Jobs” album in 1980. This led her to a contract with Bearsville Records and began work on her own album.
However, an accidental fall in 1981 kept her sidelined and frustrated. But just like the other Dolly Parton’s siblings, Freida doesn’t know how to give up. She worked on songs during her recovery that later became part of the “Two Faced” album.
Her sharp, often screaming vocals and passionate delivery was highly recognized during that time. However, both her album and single “Oriental Dolls” flopped on the charts. Later, in 1986, Freida filed for bankruptcy. She returned from her work in a stage show with sister Stella showcased at Dolly’s Dollywood Theme Park that improved her financial situation.
In addition to her musical feats, Freida also posed for Playboy magazine during the time of the release of her album, and she has been married and divorced three times. However, drug addictions and a chronic back injury from her fall in 1981 have weighed down her attempts to return to recording. Little is known about her life since the 80s.
Rachel Ann Parton
Other sisters may look like each other, but when you compare Rachel Ann Parton Dennison to her celebrated sister, Dolly Parton, you will breathtakingly understand that physique is not unique. Rachel has the same bright blonde hair, the same silvery shivers in her singing voice, the same sunny disposition with a hint of Hee-Haw naughtiness. Their only difference is that Rachel is three inches taller than Dolly.
“I’m sure people will compare me to Dolly—it’s only human nature,” Rachel said.
The baby among Dolly Parton’s siblings is the seventh to enter showbiz. She left school after the eighth grade and tour with her older sister. She sang backup for several years, and finally, at the age of 15, she performed solo on the stage for the first time.
In 1982, Rachel landed her first and only acting role in the ABC television for the sitcom spin-off of “9 to 5.” And guess what? Her role as Doralee Rhodes, a bombshell secretary, had been originated by her big sister in the hit 1980 theatrical film of the same name.
Jane Fonda, Dolly’s 9 to 5 co-star and executive co-producer, brought Rachel to Hollywood. Fonda was visiting Dolly at the Grand Ole Opry, and she discovered Rachel, who was troweling on her sister’s makeup for a performance.
Fonda recalled: “I asked Dolly’s permission to bring Rachel out to read for the part. As soon as she stepped foot on the lot [at 20th Century-Fox], everyone started calling asking who she was.”
Accepting the role was not an easy decision to make for the youngest among Dolly Parton’s siblings. She was traditional and deeply religious. All Rachel really wanted was to keep the house and make babies with Richard Dennison, her husband, and a backup singer in Dolly’s band.
“I just wanted to get barefoot, go outside and smell the dirt and the flowers,” Rachel recalled, especially that during that time, the couple had just finished remodeling their home on six acres in Franklin, Tennessee. “To tell the truth, I really didn’t think I’d get the part. But I also didn’t want to get old and think to myself, ‘My goodness, why didn’t you try that?’ So now, when I sneak up around 30 and have my babies, I can say, ‘Heck, I did it.’ “
Richard was also supportive of Rachel’s career twist and joined her in Hollywood. “Hollywood can be crazy,” says Richard. “Before Rachel even auditioned, we talked about the price of fame. But we have a good solid marriage and home life means everything,” Richard said.
The “9 to 5” sitcom was canceled in 1988, and Rachel never acted again. Her last appearance on camera was during an episode of Bravo Profiles titled “Dolly Parton: Diamond in a Rhinestone World” in 1999. The youngest among Dolly Parton’s siblings has since retired from acting and singing.
David Parton, Coy Parton, Robert Lee Parton
As for Dolly Parton’s siblings, David Parton, Coy Parton, and Robert Lee Parton Jr., they never pursued show business, and they tend to keep their lives private. They can occasionally be seen accompanying Dolly to events.
Dolly jokingly said once that when she was a child, her family was so poor that “the ants used to bring back food they’d taken from us because they felt sorry for us.” Luckily, their mother instilled the passion of music in them.
Music definitely played a big part in the upbringing of the entire Parton family in their Tennessee home. “Singing was like breathing at home,” Dolly Parton’s sister Rachel said. Now, Dolly Parton’s siblings, oldest to youngest, have created an empire and living a rhinestone-studded life.
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