April 24

Meet Willadeene Parton: The Eldest Among Eleven Brothers and Sisters


Dolly Parton has constantly celebrated and proudly took to one’s heart her legacy as a part of a big family growing up near the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee’s Sevier County. And the eldest of the Partons, Willadeene Parton, took the task of being a chronicler who gives us a closer look at the family’s life and history in rural Tennessee.

Unlike many of her siblings, who enjoyed a great deal of success as musicians and songwriters, the 81-year-old Willadeene Parton did not pursue the entertainment industry. Instead, she found her true calling as a poet and book author at a later stage in her life – contributing to the family’s empire through books.

She published books like ‘In the Shadow of a Song: The Story of the Parton Family’ in 1985, followed by the ‘Smoky Mountain Memories: Stories from the Hearts of the Parton Family’ a year later. However, the third book she published in 1997 was different from the family memoirs she had first written. It’s called ‘All-Day Singing and Dinner on the Ground,’ and it’s composed of recipes she and her mother had to work hard to create great meals for the big Parton family.

Being the eldest of twelve siblings, Willadeene has acted as her younger siblings’ second mother. Actress Carson Meyer, who portrayed Willadeene in the holiday special ‘Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,’ noted that eldest Parton is sentimental and sensitive. In fact, she has kept all the letters she received from her sisters. The actress also revealed that one of the favorite things she learned about Willadeene is how she would put perfume on her sisters before going out, and that would always make the girls happy.

Born on March 24, 1940, in Sevierville, Tennessee, Willadeene has shown her passion for music growing up too – just like most of Dolly Parton’s siblings. In 1967, Willadeene and her sisters Dolly, Stella, and Cassie actually were in a gospel music group together. They set out for Nashville to cut a gospel album called In the Garden with the help of an independent record label called Inspiration Records. Unfortunately, it did not go mainstream but it became a break for her three other sisters, who went on to build their own singing careers.

Even though the oldest Parton sibling took a different creative approach to her career, Willadeene Parton has overcome hardship to become an unforgettable family name.


Dolly Parton, Willadeene Parton

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