Dolly Parton Biography: Inside the Private World of a Music Legend

Dolly Parton was born on January 19, 1946 in Locust Ridge, Tennessee. She was one of 12 children born to poor sharecroppers Robert Lee Parton and Avie Lee Parton. Despite growing up in poverty, Parton pursued her love of music from a young age. At age 10, she appeared on local television and radio shows in Knoxville. By age 13, she was performing at the Grand Ole Opry.

After finishing high school, Parton moved to Nashville the day after her graduation in 1964. She pursued a recording contract but struggled at first – it wasn’t until her appearance on “The Porter Wagoner Show” in 1967 that her career took off. Over the next seven years, her duets with Wagoner helped make both singers stars in country music.

Events from Early Life:

  • Born in 1946 in Locust Ridge, Tennessee
  • One of 12 children born to poor sharecroppers
  • Loved music from a young age and performed locally as a child
  • Moved to Nashville at age 18 to pursue music career
  • Career took off after joining “The Porter Wagoner Show” in 1967

Rise to Fame as a Solo Artist and Crossover Success

Parton’s career really took flight after she left “The Porter Wagoner Show” in 1974 to launch a solo career. She had her first #1 country single that year with “I Will Always Love You,” which also later became a huge pop hit for Whitney Houston.

Over the rest of the 1970s and the 1980s, Parton enjoyed tremendous success as both a country and pop artist. She had multiple chart-topping singles and albums, making her one of country music’s most popular artists. She also had success crossing over into pop music, with hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Milestones from Her Rise to Fame:

  • Left Wagoner’s show in 1974 to pursue solo career
  • First #1 country single with “I Will Always Love You” (1974)
  • Chart-topping albums and singles throughout 1970s and 1980s
  • Crossover pop hits bringing success on Billboard Hot 100 charts

Ventures into Movies and Television

In addition to her booming music career, Parton also found success as an actress in the 1980s. Her first major film role came alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the 1980 hit comedy “9 to 5.” Parton wrote and recorded the title song for the film, which went to #1 on the country charts and reached the pop Top 20.

She had a few other acting roles in the 80s in films like “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1982). She also starred in several television movies and founded Sandollar Productions with Sandy Gallin to produce her own TV films, including 1993’s “Gypsy” with Bette Midler.

Parton’s Acting Milestones:

  • First major role in 1980 film “9 to 5”
  • Also acted in films like “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”
  • Founded Sandollar Productions for her own TV films
  • Starred in TV movies like 1993’s “Gypsy”

Philanthropy and Businesses

In addition to her creative pursuits in music and film, Parton has always made philanthropy and giving back to her community a priority. Some of her major philanthropic efforts include:

Dollywood Foundation – Founded in 1988, this foundation sponsors Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library book gifting program which mails free books to children from birth to age five in participating communities. She also founded the Chasing Rainbows Museum to provide hope and inspiration to children facing serious illness.

My People Fund – Parton created this fund to support victims impacted by deadly wildfires in Sevier County, TN in 2016, quickly raising millions in relief funds.

COVID-19 Research Funding – In April 2020, Parton donated $1 million towards Vanderbilt University’s research for a COVID-19 cure. The donation helped fund Moderna’s successful vaccine.

Parton has also seen success in business by applying her star power to brand merchandise like clothing lines and Dolly-themed dinner theater attractions like Dixie Stampede.

Parton’s Philanthropy and Business:

  • Founded Dollywood Foundation in 1988 which provides free books to children
  • My People Fund raised millions for wildfire relief efforts
  • Donated $1 million towards COVID-19 cure research
  • Successful brand merchandise and dinner theaters

Later Music Career and Impact on Pop Culture

While the 1990s saw Parton’s prominence on country radio begin to wane as newer artists took center stage, she never stopped making music and continued touring successfully thanks to her perennial popularity. She began to gain more appreciation for her decades of songwriting, culminating in her induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999.

Parton also saw a resurgence of popular interest in her career in the 2010s. Younger generations discovered and embraced her music and style, inspired by her authenticity and positivity.

She’s also continued re-recording her original hits to keep ownership of her catalog, releasing new albums like 2020’s “A Holly Dolly Christmas” which became her first mainstream Top 10 album in decades. Thanks to platforms like TikTok, she reaches new fans daily by inspiring viral singalongs, memes, and more – proving Parton is still relevant to modern pop culture.

Parton’s Later Career Impact:

  • Inducted into Nashville Songwriters HOF in 1999
  • Younger generations “rediscovered” her music starting 2010s
  • Continues re-recording hits and releasing new albums
  • Viral sensation on TikTok and internet pop culture

Table Examples

1967Hello, I’m Dolly“Dumb Blonde”
1974Jolene“I Will Always Love You”
1977Here You Come AgainHere You Come AgainGrammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance
19809 to 5 (soundtrack)9 to 5Academy Award for Original Song
1984The Great Pretender


Dolly Parton’s rags-to-riches life story epitomizes the American dream. Her passion for music led her from rural Appalachian poverty to tremendous success as a country/pop crossover superstar with over 100 million albums sold.

Beyond her chart accolades and acting achievements, Parton’s business acumen is equally remarkable – she built a multimillion dollar entertainment empire. All while balancing her fortunes by donating generously to charity foundations she built to help children in need or victims of natural disasters.

Parton’s endlessly optimistic personality has promoted her from fame to cultural icon status, beloved across generations. Her brand and songs have permeated pop culture, referenced in today’s music, memes, fashion, and slang.

Now entering the sixth decade of her illustrious career, 77-year-old Parton shows no sign of slowing down. With big plans like a forthcoming rock album and Broadway-aimed musical, her creative fire still burns – inspiring old and new admirers to follow their dreams as Dolly did.

FAQs About Dolly Parton’s Life and Career

What inspired Dolly Parton to get into music?

From early childhood while growing up in rural Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, Parton was surrounded by music. Her mother often sang folk songs and hymns while doing chores and her father played the banjo and guitar.

By age 10 she had written her first song, “Puppy Love,” on an old mandolin she found. Music was a passion and escape from hardship – though they were poor, her musical family nurtured her talents.

How did Parton break into the country music industry?

Parton set her sights on Nashville after high school graduation in 1964 with big dreams of becoming a country star despite having little money. After arriving in Music City, she pursued every opportunity – singing on demo tapes, radio jingles, and taking gigs performing on local TV shows to get noticed.

Her 1966 appearance at the Grand Ole Opry led to a meeting with country star Porter Wagoner who helped her land a record deal and invited her to join his road show in 1967 which propelled her career for the next 7 years.

What is Dolly Parton’s biggest songwriting hit?

While Parton penned many iconic songs that topped the charts, her biggest songwriting success is Whitney Houston’s blockbuster rendition of “I Will Always Love You” from 1992’s film The Bodyguard soundtrack.

Though Parton originally wrote and recorded the song in 1973, Houston’s version spent a record-setting 14 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is one of the best-selling singles of all time. Parton is estimated to earn $10 million or more annually off just publishing royalties from Houston’s version.

How much money has Dolly Parton donated to charity?

Though an exact figure is unknown, Parton is famed for her generosity and over her decades-long career has donated literally tens of millions to charity. From her Imagination Library initiative providing free books to disadvantaged children, to her $1 million donation towards Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine research, Parton quietly gives in abundance.

She’s also marshalled millions more through efforts like her My People Fund for wildfire relief and has donated to health organizations, education non-profits, Black Lives Matter groups and more throughout her hometown region of East Tennessee and beyond.

What makes Dolly Parton such an icon?

Parton has earned her larger-than-life pop culture icon status thanks to her multifaceted decades-long career filled with talent, charm, authenticity and grace.