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Dolly Parton Bio
Dolly Parton (born January 19, 1946) is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, actress, author, businesswoman, and philanthropist, known primarily for her work in country music. After achieving success as a songwriter for others, Dolly Parton made her album debut in 1967, with her album Hello, I’m Dolly. With steady success during the remainder of the 1960s (both as a solo artist and with a series of duet albums with Porter Wagoner), her sales and chart peak came during the 1970s and continued into the 1980s; Parton’s subsequent albums in the later part of the 1990s were lower in sales. However, in the new millennium, Parton achieved commercial success again and has released albums on various independent labels since 2000, including albums on her own label, Dolly Records.
Parton’s music includes 25 Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)-certified gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards. She has had 25 songs reach No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts, a record for a female artist (tied with Reba McEntire). She has 41 career top-10 country albums, a record for any artist, and she has 110 career charted singles over the past 40 years. She has garnered nine Grammy Awards, two Academy Award nominations, ten Country Music Association Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards, three American Music Awards, and is one of only seven female artists to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award. Parton has received 47 Grammy nominations.
In 1999, Parton was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She has composed over 3,000 songs, notably “I Will Always Love You” (a two-time U.S. country chart-topper for Parton, as well as an international pop hit for Whitney Houston), “Jolene”, “Coat of Many Colors”, and “9 to 5”. She is also one of the few to have received at least one nomination from the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Tony Awards, and Emmy Awards. As an actress, she has starred in films such as 9 to 5 (1980) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), for which she earned Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress, as well as Rhinestone (1984), Steel Magnolias (1989), Straight Talk (1992) and Joyful Noise (2012).
Early life and career
Dolly Rebecca Parton was born January 19, 1946, in a one-room cabin on the banks of the Little Pigeon River in Pittman Center, Tennessee; a very small community located in Sevier County in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Dolly Parton went to Sevier County High School in Sevierville, Tennessee. She is the fourth of twelve children born to Avie Lee Caroline (née Owens; 1923–2003) and Robert Lee Parton Sr. (1921–2000). Her siblings include Stella Parton, Randy Parton, and Rachel Dennison. Mr. Parton (known as “Lee”) worked in the mountains of east Tennessee, first as a sharecropper, and later tending his own small farm and acreage. He also worked temporary side jobs to make ends meet. He could neither read nor write. Despite his lack of formal education, Parton has said that he was one of the smartest people she has known. Avie Lee was homemaker for the large family. Her eleven pregnancies (the tenth pregnancy being twins) in twenty years made her a mother of twelve at thirty five years of age. Often in poor health, she still managed to keep house and entertain her children with songs and tales of mountain folklore. Parton has long credited her father for her business savvy, and her mother’s family for her musical abilities. While she was still very young, Dolly Parton’s parents moved their growing family to a farm on nearby Locust Ridge. Most of Parton’s cherished memories of youth happened while living there, and it was also the place for which she was inspired to write the song, “My Tennessee Mountain Home” in the 1970s. Parton would buy back the Locust Ridge property in the 1980s.
Dolly Parton’s middle name comes from her maternal great-great grandmother, Rebecca (Dunn) Whitted. She has described her family as being “dirt poor.” Parton’s father paid the doctor who helped deliver her with a bag of cornmeal. She outlined her family’s poverty in her early songs “Coat of Many Colors” and “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)”. They lived in a rustic, one-room cabin in Locust Ridge, just north of the Greenbrier Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains, a predominantly Pentecostal area. Music played an important role in her early life. She was brought up in the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the church her grandfather, Jake Robert Owens, pastored. Her earliest public performances were in the church, beginning at age six. At seven, she started playing a homemade guitar. When she was eight years old, her uncle bought her first real guitar.
Parton began performing as a child, singing on local radio and television programs in the East Tennessee area. By ten, she was appearing on The Cas Walker Show on both WIVK Radio and WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee. At 13, she was recording (the single “Puppy Love”) on a small Louisiana label, Goldband Records, and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, where she first met Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to follow her own instincts regarding her career.
The day after she graduated from high school in 1964, she moved to Nashville. Her initial success came as a songwriter, having signed with Combine Publishing shortly after her arrival; with her frequent songwriting partner, her uncle Bill Owens, she wrote several charting singles during this time, including two top-10 hits: Bill Phillips’s 1966 record “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” and Skeeter Davis’s 1967 hit “Fuel to the Flame”. Her songs were recorded by many other artists during this period, including Kitty Wells and Hank Williams Jr. She signed with Monument Records in 1965, at age 19; she initially was pitched as a bubblegum pop singer. She released a string of singles, but the only one that charted, “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby”, did not crack the Billboard Hot 100. Although she expressed a desire to record country material, Monument resisted, thinking her unique voice with its strong vibrato was not suited to the genre.
After her composition, “Put It Off Until Tomorrow”, as recorded by Bill Phillips (and with Parton, uncredited, on harmony), went to number six on the country chart in 1966, the label relented and allowed her to record country. Her first country single, “Dumb Blonde” (composed by Curly Putman, one of the few songs during this era that she recorded but did not write), reached number 24 on the country chart in 1967, followed by “Something Fishy”, which went to number 17. The two songs appeared on her first full-length album, Hello, I’m Dolly.
1967–1975: Country music success
In 1967, musician and country music entertainer Porter Wagoner invited Parton to join his organization, offering her a regular spot on his weekly syndicated television program The Porter Wagoner Show, and in his road show. As documented in her 1994 autobiography, initially, much of Wagoner’s audience was unhappy that Norma Jean, the performer whom Parton had replaced, had left the show, and was reluctant to accept Parton (sometimes chanting loudly for Norma Jean from the audience). With Wagoner’s assistance, however, Parton was eventually accepted. Wagoner convinced his label, RCA Victor, to sign her. RCA decided to protect their investment by releasing her first single as a duet with Wagoner. That song, a remake of Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing on My Mind”, released in late 1967, reached the country top 10 in January 1968, launching a six-year streak of virtually uninterrupted top-10 singles for the pair.
Parton’s first solo single for RCA Victor, “Just Because I’m a Woman”, was released in the summer of 1968 and was a moderate chart hit, reaching number 17. For the remainder of the decade, none of her solo effort – even “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)”, which later became a standard – was as successful as her duets with Wagoner. The duo was named Vocal Group of the Year in 1968 by the Country Music Association, but Parton’s solo records were continually ignored. Wagoner had a significant financial stake in her future; as of 1969, he was her co-producer and owned nearly half of Owe-Par, the publishing company Parton had founded with Bill Owens. By 1970, both Parton and Wagoner had grown frustrated by her lack of solo chart success. Wagoner persuaded Parton to record Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mule Skinner Blues”, a gimmick that worked. The record shot to number three, followed closely, in February 1971, by her first number-one single, “Joshua”. For the next two years, she had numerous solo hits – including her signature song “Coat of Many Colors” (number four, 1971) – in addition to her duets. Top-20 singles included “The Right Combination” and “Burning the Midnight Oil” (both duets with Wagoner, 1971); “Lost Forever in Your Kiss”, (with Wagoner) “Touch Your Woman”, (1972) “My Tennessee Mountain Home” and “Travelin’ Man” (1973).
Although her solo singles and the Wagoner duets were successful, her biggest hit of this period was “Jolene”. Released in late 1973, it topped the country chart in February 1974 and reached the lower regions of the Hot 100. (It eventually also charted in the U.K., reaching number seven in 1976, representing Parton’s first U.K. success). Parton, who had always envisioned a solo career, made the decision to leave Wagoner’s organization; the pair performed their last duet concert in April 1974, and she stopped appearing on his TV show in mid-1974, although they remained affiliated. He helped produce her records through 1975. The pair continued to release duet albums, their final release being 1975’s Say Forever You’ll Be Mine.
In 1974, her song, “I Will Always Love You”, written about her professional break from Wagoner, went to number one on the country chart. Around the same time, Elvis Presley indicated that he wanted to record the song. Parton was interested until Presley’s wily manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told her that it was standard procedure for the songwriter to sign over half of the publishing rights to any song recorded by Presley. Parton refused. That decision has been credited with helping to make her many millions of dollars in royalties from the song over the years. Parton had three solo singles reach number one on the country chart in 1974 (“Jolene”, “I Will Always Love You” and “Love Is Like a Butterfly”), as well as the duet with Porter Wagoner, “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me”. She again topped the singles chart in 1975 with “The Bargain Store”.
1976–1986: Pop transition
From 1974 to 1980, she consistently charted in the country Top 10, with eight singles reaching number one. Parton had her own syndicated television variety show, Dolly! (1976–77) During this period, many performers, including Rose Maddox, Kitty Wells, Olivia Newton-John, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt covered her songs. Her siblings Randy and Stella both received recording contracts of their own. During this period, Parton began to embark on a high-profile crossover campaign, attempting to aim her music in a more mainstream direction and increase her visibility outside of the confines of country music. In 1976, she began working closely with Sandy Gallin, who served as her personal manager for the next 25 years. With her 1976 album All I Can Do, which she co-produced with Porter Wagoner, Parton began taking more of an active role in production, and began specifically aiming her music in a more mainstream, pop direction. Her first entirely self-produced effort, New Harvest…First Gathering (1977), highlighted her pop sensibilities, both in terms of choice of songs – the album contained covers of the pop and R&B classics “My Girl” and “Higher and Higher” – and production. Though the album was well received and topped the U.S. country albums chart, neither it nor its single “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” made much of an impression on the pop charts.
After New Harvest’s disappointing chart performance, Parton turned to high-profile pop producer Gary Klein for her next album. The result, 1977’s Here You Come Again, became her first million-seller, topping the country album chart and reaching number 20 on the pop chart. The Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil-penned title track topped the country singles chart, and became Parton’s first top-ten single on the pop chart (#3). A second single, the double A-sided “Two Doors Down”/”It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right” topped the country chart and crossed over to the pop Top 20. For the remainder of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, many of her subsequent singles moved up on both charts simultaneously. Her albums during this period were developed specifically for pop-crossover success.
In 1978, Parton won a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her Here You Come Again album. She continued to have hits with “Heartbreaker”, (1978) “Baby I’m Burning” (1979) and “You’re the Only One,” (1979) all of which charted in the pop Top 40 and topped the country chart. “Sweet Summer Lovin'” (1979) became the first Parton single in two years to not top the country chart (though it did reach the Top 10). During this period, her visibility continued to increase, with multiple television appearances. A highly publicized candid interview on a Barbara Walters Special in 1977 (timed to coincide with Here You Come Again’s release) was followed by appearances in 1978 on Cher‘s ABC television special, and her own joint special with Carol Burnett on CBS, Carol and Dolly in Nashville.
Parton served as one of three co-hosts (along with Roy Clark and Glen Campbell) on the CBS special Fifty Years of Country Music. In 1979, Parton hosted the NBC special The Seventies: An Explosion of Country Music, performed live at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C., and whose audience included President Jimmy Carter. Her commercial success grew in 1980, with three consecutive country chart number-one hits: the Donna Summer-written “Starting Over Again”, “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You”, and “9 to 5”, which topped the country and pop charts in early 1981. She had another Top 10 single that year with “Making Plans”, a single released from a 1980 reunion album with Porter Wagoner.
The theme song to the 1980 feature film 9 to 5, in which she starred along with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, “9 to 5”, not only reached number one on the country chart, but also, in February 1981, reached number one on the pop and the adult-contemporary charts, giving her a triple number-one hit. Parton became one of the few female country singers to have a number-one single on the country and pop charts simultaneously. It also received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Her singles continued to appear consistently in the country Top 10. Between 1981 and 1985, she had 12 Top-10 hits; half of them hit number one. She continued to make inroads on the pop chart as well. A re-recorded version of “I Will Always Love You,” from the feature film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) scraped the Top 50 that year and her duet with Kenny Rogers, “Islands in the Stream” (written by the Bee Gees and produced by Barry Gibb), spent two weeks at number one in 1983.
In the mid-1980s, her record sales were still relatively strong, with “Save the Last Dance for Me”, “Downtown”, “Tennessee Homesick Blues” (1984), “Real Love” (another duet with Kenny Rogers), “Don’t Call It Love” (1985) and “Think About Love” (1986) all reaching the country Top 10 (“Tennessee Homesick Blues” and “Think About Love” reached number one; “Real Love” also reached number one on the country chart and became a modest crossover hit). However, RCA Records did not renew her contract after it expired in 1986, and she signed with Columbia Records in 1987.
1987–2005: Country and bluegrass period
Along with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, she released Trio (1987) to critical acclaim. The album revitalized Parton’s music career, spending five weeks at number one on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, and also reached the top 10 on Billboard’s Top-200 Albums chart. It sold several million copies and produced four Top 10 country hits, including Phil Spector’s “To Know Him Is to Love Him”, which went to number one. Trio won the Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. After a further attempt at pop success with Rainbow, (1987) including the single “The River Unbroken”, Parton focused on recording country material. White Limozeen (1989) produced two number one hits in “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That” and “Yellow Roses”. Although Parton’s career appeared to be revived, it was actually just a brief revival before contemporary country music came in the early 1990s and moved most veteran artists off the charts.
A duet with Ricky Van Shelton, “Rockin’ Years” (1991) reached number one, though Parton’s greatest commercial fortune of the decade came when Whitney Houston recorded “I Will Always Love You” for the soundtrack of the feature film The Bodyguard (1992). Both the single and the album were massively successful. Parton’s soundtrack album from the 1992 film, Straight Talk, however, was less successful. But her 1993 album Slow Dancing with the Moon won critical acclaim and did well on the charts, reaching number four on the country albums chart, and number 16 on the Billboard 200 album chart. She recorded “The Day I Fall in Love” as a duet with James Ingram for the feature film Beethoven’s 2nd (1993). The songwriters (Ingram, Carole Bayer Sager, and Clif Magness) were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and Parton and Ingram performed the song at the awards telecast. Similar to her earlier collaborative album with Harris and Ronstadt, Parton released Honky Tonk Angels in the fall of 1993 with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. It was certified as a gold album by the Recording Industry Association of America and helped revive both Wynette and Lynn’s careers. Also in 1994, Parton contributed the song “You Gotta Be My Baby” to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country produced by the Red Hot Organization.A live acoustic album, Heartsongs: Live from Home, featuring stripped down versions of some of her hits, as well as some traditional songs, was released in late 1994.
Parton’s recorded music during the mid- to late-1990s remained steady and somewhat eclectic. Her 1995 re-recording of “I Will Always Love You” (performed as a duet with Vince Gill), from her album Something Special. won the Country Music Association’s Vocal Event of the Year Award. The following year, Treasures, an album of covers of 1960s/70s hits was released, and featured a diverse collection of material, including songs by Mac Davis, Pete Seeger, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens, and Neil Young. Her recording of Stevens’ “Peace Train” was later re-mixed and released as a dance single, reaching Billboard’s dance singles chart. Her 1998 country-rock album Hungry Again was made up entirely of her own compositions. Although neither of the album’s two singles, “(Why Don’t More Women Sing) Honky Tonk Songs” and “Salt in my Tears”, charted, videos for both songs received significant airplay on CMT. A second and more contemporary collaboration with Harris and Ronstadt, Trio II, was released in early 1999. Its cover of Neil Young’s song “After the Gold Rush” won a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. Parton also was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
Parton recorded a series of bluegrass-inspired albums, beginning with The Grass Is Blue (1999), winning a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album; and Little Sparrow (2001), with its cover of Collective Soul’s “Shine” winning a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. The third, Halos & Horns (2002) included a bluegrass version of the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven”. In 2005, she released Those Were The Days consisting of her interpretations of hits from the folk-rock era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, including “Imagine”, “Where Do the Children Play?”, “Crimson and Clover”, and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
Parton earned her second Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for “Travelin’ Thru,” which she wrote specifically for the feature film Transamerica. (2005) Due to the song’s (and film’s) acceptance of a transgender woman, Parton received death threats. She returned to number one on the country chart later in 2005 by lending her distinctive harmonies to the Brad Paisley ballad, “When I Get Where I’m Going”. In September 2007, Parton released her first single from her own record company, Dolly Records, titled, “Better Get to Livin'”, which eventually peaked at number 48 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. It was followed by the studio album Backwoods Barbie, which was released on February 26, 2008, and reached number two on the country chart. The album’s debut at number 17 on the all-genre Billboard 200 albums chart was the highest in her career. Backwoods Barbie produced four additional singles, including the title track, written as part of her score for 9 to 5: The Musical, an adaptation of her feature film. After the sudden death of Michael Jackson, whom Parton knew personally, she released a video in which she somberly told of her feelings on Jackson and his death.
On October 27, 2009, Parton released a four-CD box set, Dolly, which featured 99 songs and spanned most of her career. She released her second live DVD and album, Live From London in October 2009, which was filmed during her sold-out 2008 concerts at London’s The O2 Arena. In 2010, she was said to have been working on a dance-oriented album, Dance with Dolly, but as of June 2015, the album had not been released. With longtime friend Billy Ray Cyrus, Parton released their album Brother Clyde on August 10, 2010. Parton is featured on “The Right Time”, which she co-wrote with Cyrus and Morris Joseph Tancredi. On January 6, 2011, Parton announced that her new album would be titled Better Day. In February 2011, she announced that she would embark on the Better Day World Tour on July 17, 2011, with shows in northern Europe and the U.S. The album’s lead-off single, “Together You and I”, was released on May 23, 2011, and Better Day was released on June 28, 2011. In 2011, Parton voiced the character Dolly Gnome in the animated film Gnomeo & Juliet.
On February 11, 2012, after the sudden death of Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton stated, “Mine is only one of the millions of hearts broken over the death of Whitney Houston. I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did on my song, and I can truly say from the bottom of my heart, ‘Whitney, I will always love you. You will be missed.'” In 2013, Parton joined Lulu Roman for a recording of “I Will Always Love You” for Roman’s album, At Last. In 2013, Parton and Kenny Rogers reunited for the title song of his album You Can’t Make Old Friends. For their performance, they were nominated at the 2014 Grammy Awards for Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
In 2014, Parton embarked on the Blue Smoke World Tour in support of her 42nd studio album, Blue Smoke. The album was first released in Australia and New Zealand on January 31 to coincide with tour dates there in February, and reached the top 10 in both countries. It was released in the United States on May 13, and debuted at number six on the Billboard 200 chart, making it her first top-10 album and her highest-charting solo album ever; it also reached the number two on the U.S. country chart. The album was released in Europe on June 9, and reached number two on the UK album chart. On June 29, 2014, Parton performed for the first time at the UK Glastonbury Festival performing songs such as “Jolene”, “9 to 5” and “Coat of Many Colors” to a crowd of more than 180,000.
On March 6, 2016, Parton announced that she would be embarking on a tour in support of her new album, Pure & Simple. The tour was one of Parton’s biggest tours within the United States in more than 25 years. Sixty-four dates were planned in the United States and Canada, visiting the most requested markets missed on previous tours. In the fall of 2016, she also released “Jolene” as a single with the a cappella group Pentatonix and performed on The Voice with Pentatonix and Miley Cyrus in November 2016.
Also in 2016, Parton was one of 30 artists to perform on “Forever Country”, a mash-up of the songs, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, “On the Road Again” and her own “I Will Always Love You”. The song celebrates 50 years of the CMA Awards. At the ceremony itself, Parton was honored with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented by Lily Tomlin and preceded by a tribute featuring Jennifer Nettles, Pentatonix, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride. In 2017, Parton appeared on Rainbow, the third studio album by Kesha performing a duet of “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You”. The track had been written by Kesha‘s mother Pebe Sebert. It was previously a hit for Parton and was included on her 1980 album Dolly, Dolly, Dolly. She also co-wrote and provided featuring vocals on the song “Rainbowland” on Younger Now, the sixth album by her goddaughter Miley Cyrus.
Dolly Parton (age: 73) is an American singer, songwriter, actress and philanthropist, known for her hit songs "I Will Always Love You" (also sang by Whitney Houston), "Jolene", "Coat of Many Colors", and "9 to 5", and as an actress in movies 9 to 5, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Rhinestone, Steel Magnolias, Straight Talk and Joyful Noise.