Country singer and songwriter.
Born January 19, 1946, in a cabin just north of Gatlinburg in Sevier County, Tennessee, Dolly Parton grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains surrounded by musicians. Her mother sang old ballads and folk songs; her grandfather was a preacher, ﬁddler, and songwriter; her aunt was a gospel songwriter; and her uncle was an aspiring country musician. At age ten Parton began to appear on a Knoxville television variety show and debuted on the Grand Ole Opry three years later. Determined to attain country music stardom, she set off for Nashville after graduating from high school, and with her uncle Bill Owens’s help she landed a songwriting contract.
Parton’s initial success came as a songwriter. In 1967, after Porter Wagoner asked her to join his syndicated television show, her singing career took off. Soon she was writing proliﬁcally and singing hit duets with Wagoner. In the early 1970s, Parton made the charts as a solo act with her cover of Jimmie Rodgers’s song “Mule Skinner Blues” (which also exhibited the inﬂuence of Bill Monroe) and her own song “Joshua” (her ﬁrst solo number one hit). Through 1974 she appeared on Wagoner’s show and toured with him and his band, putting on performances as duet partner and as solo artist. Some of her songs were autobiographical, detailing her life and hard times in east Tennessee; many of these appeared on her 1973 album My Tennessee Mountain Home. Other songs, built upon folk song and ballad traditions, addressed heartbreak, abuse, and mental illness. Par- ton also wrote songs depicting the beauties of nature and celebrating mountain culture. Her signature song, “Coat of Many Colors,” describes the simple dignity of confronting poverty. By the mid-1970s, hit songs such as “Jolene,” “The Bargain Store,” and “The Seeker” conﬁrmed Parton’s status as the leading female songwriter in country music.
In 1974 Parton ended her collaboration with Wagoner. Also that year, her ﬁrst recording of what would become her most successful song, “I Will Always Love You,” topped the country charts (a 1992 version of the song sung by Whitney Houston rose to the top of the pop charts). Parton went to Hollywood to appear in movies and ﬁnd management that could help her cross over to pop audiences. The strategy worked for several years: she acted in ﬁve ﬁlms and even had a short-lived television show. As a guest on television specials and talk shows, Parton be- came a national celebrity with her easy conversational manner and striking appearance.
By the mid-1990s, Parton’s Hollywood star had waned. With a younger generation of country singers dominating the charts, Parton cut back her music making and focused on entrepreneurial projects, including the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. She eventually re- turned to her musical roots with the Grammy Award– winning albums The Grass Is Blue (1999) and Little Sparrow (2001). Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999, Parton remains one of country music’s most recognized performers.
Cite this Entry
"Dolly Parton," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2013, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 19 Jun 2013 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=168>
"Dolly Parton." (2013) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved June 19, 2013, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=168