When one thinks of Dolly Parton many things probably come to mind. Her blonde hair, tight clothes, tiny waistline and bigger than Texas, well…everything. While all of that may be aptly wrapped up in her larger than life character, beneath it all lies a wellspring of tenacity and talent. Forget about fairy godmothers, Parton’s story is one of a self-made modern fairytale. Her long lineage of accomplishments has catapulted her to become a cultural icon, breaking both records and status. Even if you don’t like country music you gotta love Dolly.
Parton describes her childhood while growing up as being “dirt poor”. Born in a one-room cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, she was the fourth of twelve children. Her father who was a sharecropper could only offer a bag of cornmeal to the doctor who helped deliver her. Despite her family’s humble resources her home life was a solid foundation of love, encouragement and cherished memories. Although Parton’s father could not read or write she has long credited him for her business savvy and her mother for her musical talents. Parton’s barren circumstances would later become the source of inspiration for her early songs “Coat of Many Colors” and “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)”.
Born To Perform
A natural born singer, Parton began performing with her homemade guitar at her family’s church. By age eight her first real guitar was given to her by her uncle Bill Owens whose confidence in her talent would become central in Parton’s musical pursuits. He would often take her to Nashville and knock on doors in search of performance opportunities. Their grass roots approach must have been effective because shortly after moving to Nashville in 1964 she, along with her uncle signed with Combine Publishing as songwriters. The pair went on to write several charting singles, including two top ten hits. They even formed their own publishing company and record label Owe-Par.
Songwriter To Songbird
It may be surprising that the queen of country music actually started out as a bubblegum pop singer. After signing with Monument Records in 1965 she was discouraged and even prohibited from singing country melodies by the label. Claiming that her voice had too much vibrato. Parton would bridge the gap of pop and country later in her career with chart topping singles in both genres.
The start of Parton’s country music success can be traced back to being asked to join The Porter Wagoner Show in 1967. This partnership led to a six-year streak of virtually uninterrupted top-10 singles and eventual signing with Wagoner’s label RCA Victor. In February 1971 she released her first number one single “Joshua”. Perhaps it was a little crystal ball gazing into her eventual 25 singles to reach No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts.
After two years and numerous solo hits she finally struck pay dirt with her biggest hit of that period “Jolene" released in 1973. Shortly after Parton decided to pursue a solo career and parted ways with Wagoner. As an homage she wrote “I will Always Love You” written about her professional break from Wagoner which went to number one on the country chart.
The success of the single even grabbed the attention of Elvis Presley who wanted to record the song for half of the publishing rights. Unfazed by Presley’s fame and prestige, Parton smartly declined. A savvy decision that would produce millions of dollars in royalties in the end for her. The song famously had an incredible resurgence that marked Parton’s greatest commercial fortune when Whitney Houston recorded it for the hit soundtrack The Bodyguard. To this day it remains one of the top selling movie soundtracks of all time.
Throughout the decades Parton has not only managed to stay relevant but has become the most celebrated and honored country performer of all time. She has enough gold and platinum records to rival her jewelry box and then some. Achieving 25 Recording Association of America certified record awards and 41 career top-10 country albums, a record for any artist. Not to mention her 110 career charted singles over the past 40 years.
While Parton is no Regina George she is clearly seated at the ‘popular’ table with as many nominations that have been awarded to her. Composing over 3,000 songs has garnered her 47 Grammy nominations, 9 Grammy Awards, 10 Country Music Association Awards, 7 Academy of Country Music Awards, 3 American Music Awards, and is one of only seven female artists to win the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year Award.
And…if that wasn’t enough Parton’s talents were diversified enough to jump industries to film acting. Where she was also well received with at least one nomination from the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Tony Awards and Emmy Awards.
Parton doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and in 2004 the US Library of Congress gave her the distinguished LIving Legend Award. In 2011 she was awarded the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award. In June 2018, Parton announced an eight-part Netflix series, featuring her music career where she will be wearing many hats. Parton is playing as singer, songwriter, executive producer and co-star in the series. Now that is one fierce career.