Dolly Parton: From poverty to stardom

One genre of music that continues to grow in popularity in America and around the world is country music. While pop hits constantly make the top 100 Billboard charts, more and more country artists have been popping up over the years which has lead the to around 15% of the music market in the U.S. to be dominated by the genre. While new artists like Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini are making their way up in the ranks of country music, many of them are following in the footsteps of established and extremely successful country musicians. People such as Kenny Rogers, Shania Twain and Garth Brooks have had hit after hit and are loved by country music fans around the world. While country music may have once been more popular in the southern United States, it has now spread across the country and even to countries that one may not expect. There is one country artist who has had a career that has spanned five decades and that woman is Dolly Parton.

Not only does Dolly Parton have some of the most recognizable and beloved songs but she also has sung on 70 albums over the span of her career. Of all of those albums, 52 are her solo work and she has sold more than 100 million records and she has the honor of being in the top ten of the best selling musicians in history. Parton has gone gold, platinum and multi-platinum and 25 of her songs have reached number one on the charts. In addition to being an incredibly successful singer and performer, Parton is also an accomplished business woman who has her own company called The Dollywood Company. It seems that Parton can do know wrong and everything she touches turns to gold.

One thing Dolly is known for is her infectious and bubbly personality when she is performing. But does her on-stage persona mirror her personality in real life or is she really different behind closed doors? Although it may seem that Dolly Parton has it, her life has not been with struggles and challenges just like the rest of us. In her over 50 year career, Dolly had to face difficulties that tested her but made her stronger in the end. While Dolly Parton may be a superstar and millionaire today, she comes from very humble beginnings in a small town in Tennessee.

A music legend

You simply can’t have country music without Dolly Parton. Her songs are staples in the genre of country music and she has given us so many hits over the span of her over 50 year career. At 71 years-old, it does not look like Parton will be slowing down in the near future. In addition to her beautiful voice, her funny comments and abundance of generosity have amazed us over the years. Dolly is much more than just her voice, as she is also a successful business woman and an all around legend.

Her childhood

Born in Sevier County, Tennessee in 1946, Dolly Rebecca Parton became the fourth of the eventual twelve children of Avie Lee and Robert Lee Parton. Dolly’s mother had a lot to contend with as by the time she gave birth to her twelfth child by the age of 35. While her mother stayed home and cared for the children, her father worked in construction. Dolly has described her family as being “dirt poor” and she even wrote about growing up in poverty in her songs.

Difficult past

Although Dolly as brought up in a loving family, she has spoken openly about what it was like to struggle everyday living in poverty. Her father had to support so many children on his own that he was even forced the pay the doctor who delivered Dolly in oatmeal. Something that brought Parton a lot of joy growing up was singing in church and playing her guitar that her uncle bought her when she was seven.

Mother and doctor

One example of just how poor Dolly and her family were is evident in the story of what happened to Dolly after getting into an accident at the age of six. Dolly was running around her neighborhood when she accidentally got cut on a piece of glass and she needed stitches However, her family was too poor to take her to a doctor and her mother took things into her own hands. Dolly’s mother took out her sewing needle and stitched her up herself.

Seeing stars

Although Parton had a rough childhood, she did get a number of opportunities as a result of her musical talents. Dolly participated in many local radio and television shows, which lead her to the recording studio where she worked on her first single called Puppy Love when she was 13. As she was attending local music events, it gave her the chance to meet famous musicians. Dolly once met country music legend Johnny Cash who told her to follow her dream of being a singer.

After school

Shortly after she graduated high school, Parton decided to leave her hometown and pursue her dream of being a musician in Nashville. At first, Parton got a job as a songwriter and after a while many of her creations were topping the charts. At 19 years-old, Parton landed her own deal with a record label, however, they wanted to sign her as a pop singer and not a country musician. Parton pleaded with the record label to let her sing country music but they believed that her voice did fit the sound.

The last laugh

Thankfully, Parton used her talents to prove the label wrong as a song she had written made it to number six on the country chart! In 1966, the record label agreed to let Parton sing the genre she wanted and she released her first country singled titled Dumb Blonde. The song was an instant hit and made it to the charts at number 24. After this, Parton’s success only began to grow and she began to establish herself as a country artist.

A strong marriage

One thing that has kept Dolly grounded throughout her career is her husband, Carl Thomas Dean whom she tied the knot with in 1966 when she was 20. The couple have been together ever since and unlike Dolly, Carl is not a fan of being in the spotlight. The paving company owner chose to stay away from celebrity life and he has only watched Dolly on stage once! While Dolly uses her maiden name as her stage name, on contracts and in her passport, she took her husband’s last name.

A bump in the road

At the beginning of her carer in 1967, Dolly got the change to appear on a television show hosted by the musician, Porter Wagoner. Parton was set to replace Norma Jean who had been on the show for six years, which caused some controversy amongst the viewers. The audience in the studio would often chant for Norma Jean to come back and they were not readily accepting of Parton. It took some time but the viewers eventually came around and fell in love with Parton.

Partnering up

In addition to appearing on his show, Parton also partnered with Wagoner for a duet and Wagoner signed Dolly to his record label. Their single reached the top of the country music charts and their subsequent duets together remained on the top charts for 6 years after. However, along with their success came unwanted rumors about their relationship with each other. Wagoner was also significantly involved in Parton’s finances as her owned half of her publishing company and he co-produced her music.

Not going solo

As the rumors about Dolly’s relationship with Wagoner swirled, tensions about her solo career also arose. The problem was that Dolly didn’t have much of a solo career at all. Her attempts to go at it alone had been overshadowed by the success of her duets but then Wagoner came up with the idea for her record a cover of the son Mule Skinner Blues. This record led Dolly to have many more top twenty hits and it was the start of her solo career.


One of Parton’s best-known songs of all time is Jolene, which was released in 1973. The single was a hit almost immediately and it landed on the number one spot on the chart after just a few months. Since then, it has made it to the chart of the top one hundred songs of all time. This was the push that Parton needed to break away from doing duets and pursue her solo career in full force.

Saying no to Elvis

What you may not know is that Dolly Parton and not Whitney Houston was writer and first voice behind the hit song I Will Always Love You. Parton penned the song after she and Wagoner split in 1973. It seems that a lot of musicians knew that this song would be a huge hit as Elvis Presley approached Parton to make a cover of it. However, Parton had to say no to the king of rock and roll’s request as she did not want to give up the rights to the song.

Rumors of infidelity

This is not the only interaction that Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley had as there were many rumors about the pair. One highly controversial rumor was that Parton and Elvis had a child together. If that rumor was not enough, there was also talk that Dolly and Burt Reynolds had a secret child. Of course, Parton denies both of these claims but she admitted that she thought the rumors were funny when she first red about them. While Parton does not have any children, she is Miley Cyrus’ godmother.

Dolly on TV

Dolly was starting to gain mainstream fame and success and it was not long before exciting offers began pouring in for her. Her fame ultimately led her to get her own television show in 1976 called Dolly. Parton had many famous guests on the show such as Rose Maddox and Olivia Newton-John. Parton was using the show to introduce her music into the general American population, however, after one year on the air, Dolly had to leave because it was putting too much strain on her voice.

From country to pop

Although Dolly had first set out to become a country music star, by the late 1970s, she was becoming well-known in the pop music scene. Dolly had one foot in the country music world and one foot in the pop world as she was still attending country events but recording pop music at the same time. In the early 80’s, Parton was releasing music that had more of a pop sound than anything she had put out before.

9 to 5

Parton was taking almost every opportunity she was given. When she was offered to star in a film, she leaped at the chance. If you are a Dolly Parton fan you will know that the film we are referring to is 9 to 5. Released in 1980, this was Parton’s chance to make herself as a well-established performer and actress and she also recorded the film’s title song. The film turned out to be a career changer for Parton as it was nominated for numerous awards and she eventually wrote a musical based on the movie.

Hiding a rip

While didn’t seem to be making any mistakes in her career, she did have one embarrassing moment that left her mortified. At the CMA awards in 1978, Dolly was overjoyed to hear that he name was called for the entertainer of the year award. However, before she went up to receive the award, she ripped her dress right down the middle! But luckily for Dolly, Kenny Rogers’ wife offered her fur scarf which concealed Dolly’s wardrobe malfunction.


While Dolly’s career was growing in every aspect, she also added something new on her plate. She decided to start a business and expand her empire that was growing rapidly. Parton did something unexpected and bought a theme park, renovated it and reopened it under the name ‘Dollywood’. The park has existed since 1986 and it is still in business today. Around 3 million people a year visit the Tennessee theme park making it the highest earning attraction in the state.

Back to her roots

By the mid 80’s Parton had made herself a prominent figure in the pop music scene but after the success of her album titled Trio, she decided that she wanted to shift her focus back to country music. The next album she released in 1989, White Limozeen, gave her a boost in popularity but unfortunately, this return to country music album was released prior to the country music boom that came in the early 1990s.

Hall of fame

However, Dolly did not have to worry too much as her success continued to grow into in 90s as she released new albums. Many of the songs on these albums were nominated for Grammy awards and received a lot of acclaim. One of her duets, The Day I Fall in Love was even nominated for an Academy Award. Before the new millennium came Parton was inducted into the country hall of fame which solidified her status as a legend in country music.

Giving back

Celebrities often use their wealth and influence to help others either by donating large sums of money or by advocating for a cause. A cause that Parton has advocated strongly for is LGBT rights. She has become an icon in the community and she has even hosted days in dedication to the community at Dollywood. She has also raised money for HIV related charities and the American Red Cross. Parton has also worked to preserve endangered species and she offered Dollywood as a place for a bald eagle sanctuary.

Dolly and Miley

Parton’s career continued into the 2000s and she never stopped putting out new music. Since 2001 she has released nine studio albums and has done multiple world tours. She has also had an influence on another musician, her goddaughter Miley Cyrus. In addition to appearing on Cyrus’ Disney show Hannah Montana, Parton has given the young singer advice and let her record some of her hit songs. Cyrus’ cover of Jolene has over 130 million views on YouTube.

Box office failure

Since her foray into the acting word with 9 to 5, Parton has continued to act and she has starred in many television shows and movies. There was one film, however, which was not as successful as 9 to 5. This was a film written by Sylvester Stallone called Rhinestone in which Parton acted alongside him. The film was regarded as a failure as it lost around $8 million dollars and received criticism from most movie critics.


In addition to being known for her upbeat personality and musical talents, Dolly Parton also has a very recognizable appearance. She is easily identifiable by her bright makeup, voluptuous looks and daring outfit choices. It seems hard to believe that there are Dolly Parton look-alike competitions as she has such a unique appearance. On one occasion, Parton entered one such competition at a bar and fought to win the title of most like Dolly Parton.

Helping sick children

We have discussed causes that Dolly Parton advocates for but she has also donated a lot of money to charities. Parton regularly gives to children’s hospitals and she once made a very generous donation of $1 million to a hospital in Nashville. As well as giving support to sick children financially, Dolly also visits them in person to keep them company and play music. It is clear that Parton is putting her fame and fortune to good use.

Invisible ink

Unfortunately, like many other celebrities Dolly has been the topic of many rumors and one that has been circulating is that the singer is covered in tattoos. It is believed that she got these alleged tattoos in order to cover up the scars for surgeries she got to enhance certain assets. People in the media often claim that Parton has not worn a sleeves shirt in years because she is trying to conceal her reported ink.

Hidden art

In a biography about Parton by Susan Saunders, she claims that Dolly showed her the tattoos which include flowers, angles and butterflies. Apparently, Parton asked Saunders to keep this a secret but it has not yet been proven that Parton even has these tattoos in question. However, people still claim that Dolly wears long sleeve clothing to hide her body art and some have claimed that certain photos are proof that she really does have tattoos.

Lifetime achievement

In 2016, Parton’s career was celebrated along with the 50th anniversary of the Country Music Awards. She performed songs like I Will Always Love You and Take Me Home Country Roads along with other country stars prior to receiving the lifetime achievement award. This award recognized all of the hard work Parton has put into her career over the years and how her music as influenced and entertained fans across generation. Many famous country artists were there to pay tribute to Parton and all of her successes.

Music for a cause

In her most recent album release, Parton has combined her passions for music and philanthropy. The profits from the album titled I Believe in You go to Parton’ program called The Imagination Library, an organization that was created to help encourage children in her home state of Tennessee to read. The project has grown and she has led to over 100 million books being given away to children. She started the organization because her father never learned to read or write and she wanted to prevent that from happening to children today.