Few artists achieve the success that Dolly Parton experienced in her first 10 years on the country music scene. Add four more decades of that same success, and the iconic figure has reached a level of stardom reserved for an elite club. But what makes Dolly’s story so inspiring is her humble Appalachian roots, her passionate ambition, and her ability to carry that legacy with her all of these years.
Born on January 19, 1946, in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, Dolly Parton grew up in a place where music was an integral part of life for those who struggled to make a hard living. Her musical roots were established by her mother who taught Dolly church music along with the Elizabethan ballads her ancestors had brought to America. Dolly’s grandfather was a fiddling preacher who wrote “Singing His Praise,” which was recorded by Kitty Wells. Dolly got her first guitar when she was eight and began singing on a Knoxville, Tenn., radio station at age 11, with her heritage of gospel music creating the backdrop for her young career.
The day after she graduated in 1964, Dolly moved to Nashville. Her first charting records included “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy,” both in 1967. At about this time, Porter Wagoner was looking for a new “girl singer” for his syndicated television show. Parton accepted the job in 1967, signed with RCA Records in 1968 and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1969. However, she left Wagoner’s show in 1974, as her solo releases — such as “Joshua,” “Coat of Many Colors” and “Jolene” — were out-charting their collaborations. After their split, Parton wrote the song “I Will Always Love You” for Wagoner, and it reached No. 1 for the first time in 1974.
Parton snared the CMA’s female vocalist award in 1975 and 1976 and won the entertainer trophy in 1978, one of only five women to achieve this accomplishment to date. A Bee Gees-written duet with Kenny Rogers, “Islands in the Stream,” also topped the country charts in 1983.
Parton’s greatest commercial fortune of the decade came when Whitney Houston recorded “I Will Always Love You” for The Bodyguard soundtrack. Parton re-recorded “I Will Always Love You” with Vince Gill, and they won a CMA award for vocal event in 1996. Taken from the album Trio II, a cover of “After the Gold Rush” won a Grammy for best country collaboration with vocals in 1999, and Parton was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame later that year.
Parton also changed the landscape of her Tennessee stomping grounds when she opened the Dollywood theme park in 1985. Dollywood showcases much of the music that has impacted Parton throughout her life, including many tributes to gospel music. Each fall, the National Gospel Harvest Celebration brings together many of today’s biggest names in southern gospel music, and in 1999 the Southern Gospel Music Association opened the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame on the grounds of Dollywood. The park also offers an array of themed shops that include many nods to gospel music.
Locust Ridge, TN
“Coat of Many Colors”
“I Will Always Love You”
Tribute to Gospel Music
Her theme park, Dollywood, showcases southern gospel artists and is home to the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame museum
Dolly Parton singing “When I Sing For Him”