Dolly Parton is an American singer-songwriter, actress, author, businesswoman, and humanitarian, known primarily for her work in country music. She is the most honoured female country performer of all time.
Parton was born in 1946 in Sevier County, Tennessee. From a young age, she would sing in church and at the age of 7 she began writing music and playing guitar. At 10, she first sang in front of a live audience on the stage of “The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour” in Knoxville, Tennessee and realised that music was what she wanted to do as a career. By the age of 13, she was following her dream, recording music and desperate to play at the legendary Grand Ole Opry. The country music star Jimmy C. Newman gave her his spot, and Parton was able to make her debut at the Opry.
After graduating from high school in 1964, Parton moved to Nashville. She had initial success as a songwriter, with several singles landing in the charts including two top ten hits. At 19, she released a number of singles, but she was forced to sing ‘bubblegum’ pop, a genre unsuited to both her voice and her own musical leanings. It wasn’t until she was allowed to sing one of her own songs that she began to achieve success and her label allowed her to record country music. Her first country single “Dumb Blonde” reached 24 on the country chart and was followed by her first full-length album Hello, I’m Dolly.
In 1967, Parton was invited to perform in a regular spot on the Porter Wagoner Show. The show aired weekly and led to her signing with Wagoner’s label, RCA Victor. Parton released a string of successful solo singles and duets with Wagoner, beginning with “Joshua” in 1971. Her biggest hit, “Jolene”, inspired her to leave Wagoner and strike out on her own although they continued to work together. She wrote the song “I Will Always Love You” about her professional break from him. It reached No. 1 on the country chart, and is now thought of as one of her signature songs.
Parton continued her rise to musical fame and began to branch out in a more mainstream direction. She also started to participate in the production of her music and in 1977 her album Here You Come Again became her first million-seller and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. The record topped the country album chart and she continued her success with subsequent country-pop crossover albums. In 1980, “9 to 5”, the theme song to the feature film of the same name gave her a triple No. 1 hit. Parton is one of the few female country singers to have achieved this, and the song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. In the early 90’s, Parton went back to her roots and returned to country music. In 1991, her song “I Will Always Love You” was recorded by Whitney Houston for the film, The Bodyguard and continued to be hugely successful. Parton continues to tour, record and release music.
Parton is the co-owner of The Dollywood Company, which operates the Dollywood theme park as well as a number of other locations in Pigeon Forge, East Tennessee including Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede and Dollywood’s Splash Country. In the mid 1980’s, she founded the Dollywood Foundation which supports many charitable causes including Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library which sends a book per month to a child from birth to kindergarten and distributes more than 10 million free books a year. The Foundation also supports the American Red Cross and HIV/AIDS-related charities amongst others.
Parton has also branched out into acting, and has appeared on TV and in a number of feature films including Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, for which she received a nomination for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress. She is one of the most honoured female country performers of all time, and has earned eight Grammy Awards including the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award and is one of few performers who have received at least one nomination from the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Tony Awards, and Emmy Awards.
Parton is one of only seven female artists to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award and has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame. She has composed over 3,000 songs, achieved 25 RIAA certified gold, platinum, and multi-platinum awards and had 25 songs reach No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts, a record for a female artist.