Dolly Parton - Biography

Dolly Parton

Dolly Rebecca Parton (born January 19, 1946) is an American country singer, songwriter, composer, author and actress.

Family life

Parton was born in Sevierville, Tennessee, the fourth of twelve children born to Robert Lee Parton and Avie Lee Owens. Her siblings are Willadeene Parton (a poet), David Parton, Denver Parton, Bobby Parton, Stella Parton (a singer), Cassie Parton, Larry Parton (who died shortly after birth), Randy Parton (a singer), twins Floyd Parton (a songwriter) and Freida Parton (a singer), and Rachel Dennison (an actress).

Her family was, as she described them, "dirt poor" and lived in a rustic, dilapidated one-room cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains, near Locust Ridge. Parton's parents were parishioners in the Assembly of God Church, a Pentecostal denomination, and music was a very large part of her church experience. She once told an interviewer that her grandfather was a Pentecostal "holy roller" preacher and today, when appearing in live concerts, she frequently performs spiritual songs. (Parton, however, professes no denomination, claiming only to be Christian while adding that she believes that all Earth's peoples are God's children.)

On May 30, 1966, at the age of 20, she married Carl Dean, who ran an asphalt-paving business (whom she met upon her first day in Nashville two years earlier), in Ringgold, Georgia. She has remained with Dean, who has always shunned publicity and rarely accompanies Parton to any events.


Parton began performing as a child, singing on local radio programming radio and television program television in East Tennessee. At age 12 she was appearing on Knoxville, Tennessee TV, and at 13, she was recording on a small record label and appearing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. When she graduated from high school in 1964 she moved to Nashville, taking many traditional elements of folklore and popular music from East Tennessee with her.

Parton's initial success came as a songwriter, writing hit songs for Hank Williams, Jr. and Skeeter Davis. She signed with Monument Records in late 1965, where she was initially pitched as a bubblegum pop singer, earning only one national chart single, "Happy, Happy Birthday Baby," which did not crack the Billboard Top 100. Additional pop singles also failed to chart.

The label agreed to have Parton sing country music after her composition "Put It Off Until Tomorrow" as recorded by Bill Phillips (and with Parton, uncredited, on harmony) went to No. 6 on the country charts in 1966. Her first country single, "Dumb Blonde" (one of the few songs during this era that she recorded but didn't write), reached No. 24 country 1967, followed later the same year with "Something Fishy," which went to No. 17. The two songs anchored her first full-length album, Hello I'm Dolly, that same year.

In 1967, Parton was asked to join the weekly syndicated country music TV program hosted by Porter Wagoner, replacing Norma Jean. She also signed with RCA Victor, Wagoner's label, during this period, where she would remain for the next two decades. Wagoner and Parton immediately began a hugely successful career as a vocal duet in addition to their solo work and their first single together, a cover of Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind," reached the top ten on the U.S. country charts in late 1967, and was the first of over a dozen duet singles to chart for them during the next several years.

Parton is a hugely successful songwriter, having begun by writing country songs with strong elements of folk music in them based upon her upbringing in humble mountain surroundings. Her songs "Coat of Many Colors" and "Jolene" have become classics in the field, as have a number of others. As a composer, she is also regarded as one of country music's most gifted storytellers, with many of her narrative songs based on persons and events from her childhood. Dolly Parton has published almost 600 songs with BMI to date and has earned 24 BMI awards for her material.

She stayed with the Wagoner show and continued to record duets with him for seven years, then made a break to become a solo artist. In 1974, her song "I Will Always Love You" was released and went to #1 on the country charts. Around the same time, Elvis Presley indicated that he wanted to cover the song. Parton was interested until Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told her that she would have to sign over half of the publishing rights if Elvis recorded the song (as was the standard procedure for songs Elvis recorded). Parton refused and that decision is credited with helping make her many millions of dollars in royalties from the song over the years.

Breaking out

Despite originally being typecast in many circles as a "Country and Western" singer, Parton later had even greater commercial success as a pop singer and actress. Her 1977 album "Here You Come Again" was her first million-seller, and the title track became her first top-ten single on the pop charts; many of her subsequent singles charted on both pop and country charts simultaneously. Her albums during this period were developed specifically for pop/crossover success.

In 1987, along with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, she released the decade-in-the-making Trio album to critical acclaim (a second collaboration, "Trio II", would be released in 1999). In 1993, she teamed up with fellow country music queens Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette for a similar project, the Honky Tonk Angels album.

After 20 years with RCA, Parton signed with Columbia Records in 1987, where her recording career continued to prosper, but by the mid 1990s, Parton, along with many other performers of her generation, found that her new music was not welcome on country radio playlists. She recorded a series of critically acclaimed bluegrass albums, beginning with "The Grass is Blue" (1999) and "Little Sparrow" (2001), both of which won Grammy Awards. Her 2002 album "Halos and Horns" included a bluegrass version of the Led Zeppelin classic Stairway to Heaven. In 2005, Parton released Those Were The Days, her interpretation of hits from the folk-rock era of the late 1960s through early 1970s. The CD featured such classics as John Lennon's "Imagine," Cat Stevens' "Where Do The Children Play," Tommy James' "Crimson & Clover," and the folk classic "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" and the title track.


During the mid-1970s, Parton had her eyes set on expanding her audience base. The first step towards meeting this goal was her attempt a variety show, Dolly. Even though it had high ratings, the show lasted merely one season, with Parton asking out of her contract due to the stress it was causing her vocal cords.(In 1987 she tried a second TV variety show, also titled Dolly, which lasted only one season.)

In 1980, Jane Fonda decided Parton was a perfect candidate for her upcoming film, 9 to 5. She was looking for a brassy Southern woman for a supporting role and felt the singer was perfect. Parton received acclaim for her performance, receiving Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture Actress - Musical/Comedy and New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture - Female. She also scored one of the biggest hits of her career with the title song, which she wrote; it earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. She received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song - Motion Picture. The song won two Grammy Awards, for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was also #78 on American Film Institute's 100 years, 100 songs. She was also named the Top Female Box Office Star title by Motion Picture Herald in both 1981 and 1982.

Parton's other films include The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), for which she received another Golden Globe nomination, and Steel Magnolias. Parton's last lead role in a theatrical film was in 1992's Straight Talk, opposite James Woods. She played the plainspoken host of a radio program that has people phoning-in with problems. The film, while not a blockbuster, did respectably well upon its release. She later played an overprotective mother in Frank McKlusky, C.I. with Dave Sheridan, Cameron Richardson, and Randy Quaid.

Parton has also done voice work for animation, playing herself in the TV series Alvin & the Chipmunks (episode: Urban Chipmunk) (1987) and her voice role as Katrina Eloise "Murph" Murphy in The Magic School Bus (episode: The Family Holiday Special) (1994). She has appeared on many non-musical television shows, usually in cameo roles as herself.

Movies, theatre, and music

Aside from 9 to 5, Parton's music has been featured prominently in other films. In 1982, she recorded a second version of "I Will Always Love You" for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; the second version proved to be another #1 country hit and also managed to reach the pop charts, going to #53 in the United States.

In 1992, "I Will Always Love You" was performed by Whitney Houston on The Bodyguard soundtrack. Houston's version became the best-selling hit ever written and performed by a female vocalist, with worldwide sales of over 12 million copies. As Parton owned the song, she reaped the benefits of the royalties from Houston's version. The song was also covered by music legend Kenny Rogers on his 1997 album "Always and Forever," which sold over 4 million copies worldwide, as well as by Leann Rimes.

Parton has twice been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, for "9 to 5" in 1980, and for "Travelin' Thru" from Transamerica, filmed in 2005. She was considered the front-runner in the 2005 Oscar song category, but the song lost to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," from the movie Hustle and Flow. Had Parton's song won, she would have become the first country artist to win an Oscar. (Although other country songs have won the Best Song category in the past, all previous winners had actually been written by non-country artists, most often classical or pop composers.) "Travelin' Thru" did win as Best Original Song award at the 2005 Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards. The song was also nominated, though it did not win, for both Best Original Song by the Foreign Press' for the Golden Globes as well as Best Song by the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

A third Parton performance, "The Day I Fall In Love," a duet with James Ingram from the film "Beethoven's Second," was nominated for an Oscar in 1994 and was performed live by the duo on the awards telecast. Oscar nominations, however, are for the songwriter, not performer, and it did not win.

According to a broadcast of the public radio programme Studio 360 from 10-29-05, as of October 2005 Parton was in the midst of composing the songs for a planned Broadway musical adaptation of the film 9 to 5.

In 2005, Parton joined with George Jones on the song the "The Blues Man". They also made a video for the song. This is the very first time Parton and Jones came together and did a duet.


Parton invested much of her earnings into business ventures in her native East Tennessee, notably Pigeon Forge, which includes a theme park named Dollywood and a dinner show called Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. The area is a thriving tourist attraction, drawing visitors from large parts of the Southeastern and Midwestern United States. This region of the U.S., like most areas of Appalachia, has suffered economically for decades; Parton's business investment has revitalized the area.

She also owns Sandollar Productions, a film and television production company, which produced the Fox TV Show Babes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the features Father of the Bride I & II, Straight Talk, Sabrina, and Academy Award-winning (for Best Documentary) Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, among other shows. Sanddollar is co-owned by Sandy Gallin, Parton's former manager.

In concert

Parton toured extensively from the late 1960s until the early 1990s. Since the early 1990s, Parton's concert appearances were primarily limited to one weekend a year at her Dollywood theme park benefiting her Dollywood Foundation. After a decade long absence from touring, Parton decided to hit the road in 2002 with an 18-city, intimate club tour to promote the "Halos & Horns" CD. The House of Blues Entertainment, Inc. produced show sold out all of its U.S. and European dates (her first in two decades). In 2004, she returned to mid-sized stadium venues in 36 cities in the US and Canada with her "Hello I'm Dolly" tour, a glitzier, more elaborate stage show than two years earlier. With nearly 140,000 tickets sold, the "Hello I'm Dolly" tour was the tenth-biggest country tour of the year and grossed more than $6 million. In late 2005 Parton completed a 40-city tour with "The Vinatage Tour" promoting her new album, Those Were The Days.


Parton is the most-honored female country performer of all time. She holds 25 U.S. gold, platinum and multi-platinum honors from the RIAA. She has seen 25 songs reach No. 1 on the Billboard country charts, a record for a female artist. She has 41 career top 10 country albums, a record for any artist, and 110 career charted singles over the past 40 years. All inclusive sales of singles, albums, hits collections, paid digital downloads and compilation usage during Parton's career have reportedly reached 100 million records around the world.

She has received seven Grammy Awards and a total of 42 Grammy nominations. In the American Music Awards, she has taken home the AMA trophy three times but seen 18 nominations. At the Country Music Association, she has received 10 awards and 42 nominations. At the Academy of Country Music, she has been given seven awards and 39 nominations. She is one of only five solo female artists (others include Reba McEntire, Barbara Mandrell, Shania Twain, and Loretta Lynn), to win the Country Music Association's highest honor, "Entertainer Of The Year".

She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, awarded in 1984; a star on the Nashville Star Walk for Grammy winners; and a bronze sculpture on the courthouse lawn in Sevierville, Tennessee.

She was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1969. In 1986, she was named one of Ms. Magazine's Women of the Year. She was given an honorary doctorate from Carson-Newman College in 1990.

1986 saw Parton's induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1999, Parton received country music's highest honor, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. This was followed by induction into the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001.

She was honored in 2003 with a tribute album called Just Because I'm a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton. The artists who recorded versions of Parton's songs included Melissa Etheridge ("I Will Always Love You"), Alison Krauss ("9 to 5"), Shania Twain ("Coat of Many Colors"), Me'Shell NdegéOcello ("Two Doors Down"), Norah Jones ("The Grass is Blue"), and Sinéad O'Connor ("Dagger Through the Heart"); Parton herself contributed a rerecording of the title song, originally the title song for her first RCA album in 1968.

Parton was awarded the Living Legend medal by the U.S. Library of Congress on April 14, 2004, for her contributions to the cultural heritage of the United States. This was followed in 2005 with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given by the U.S. government for excellence in the arts.

Her efforts to preserve the bald eagle through the American Eagle Foundation's sanctuary at Dollywood earned her the Partnership Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003. And her national literacy program, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, has resulted in her receiving the Association of American Publishers' AAP Honors in 2000, Good Housekeeping's Seal of Approval in 2001 (the first time the seal had been given to a person), the American Association of School Administrators' Galaxy Award in 2002, the Chasing Rainbows Award from the National State Teachers of the Year in 2002, and the Child and Family Advocacy Award from the Parents As Teachers National Center in 2003. The program distributes more than 2.5 million free books to children annually across more than 40 states.

On December 3, 2006 Dolly Parton will be honored by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for her lifetime of contributions to the arts. The other 2006 honorees are Zubin Mehta, Steven Spielberg, Smokey Robinson and Andrew Lloyd Webber.


Parton, like Willie Nelson and the late Johnny Cash, is one of the few country stars to draw a diverse fanbase from all walks of life. Parton's fans often identify with her, and she identifies with them. She has said in interviews that she is inspired by outcasts from society (such as prostitutes, whose long fingernails and big blonde wigs inspire her on-stage appeance). She is an icon in the gay community, and is often portrayed by drag queens. She has stated that if she were a man, she would be a drag queen. One of her more famous quotes: "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap".

Throughout her career, Parton has been world renowned for her large breasts. She has often poked fun at herself with quips such as "I would have burned my bra in the 60s, but it would have taken the fire department three days to put it out," or "The reason I have a small waist and small feet is that nothing grows well in the shade." In 1989 when she guest-hosted Saturday Night Live, she participated in a self-deprecating sketch that parodied Sci-Fi exploitation films: an alien race of excessively large-breastedwomen teased her about the fact that her breasts were comparatively small, "merely the size of melons." In 1994, she told Vogue magazine that her measurements were 40-20-36. More recently, as a guest on The O'Reilly Factor she told Bill O'Reilly, "I don't know if they [my breasts] are supporting me or I'm supporting them." Dolly the sheep was named for Parton because it was cloned from mammary tissue.

She has reportedly turned down several offers to pose for Playboy magazine and similar publications; however, she jokes that she told Playboy she would pose naked on her 100th birthday. Russ Meyer wanted to make movies about her breasts. She admitted to having breast implants in 2002. She says she didn't get them until she lost a great deal of weight in the mid-1980s, because as a result of the weight loss she had lost a great deal of her famous bust.

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