Dolly Parton Biography

19 January 1946, Sevierville, Tennessee, USA. Dolly Rebecca Parton’s poor farming parents paid the doctor in cornmeal for attending the birth of the fourth of their 12 offspring. After her appearances as a singing guitarist on local radio as a child, including the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Parton left school in 1964. Her recorded output had included a raucous rockabilly song called ‘Puppy Love’ for a small label as early as 1958, but a signing to Monument in 1966 - the time of her marriage to the reclusive Carl Dean - yielded a C&W hit with ‘Dumb Blonde’, as well as enlistment in the prestigious Porter Wagoner Show as its stetsoned leader Porter Wagoner’s voluptuous female foil in duets and comedy sketches. While this post adulterated her more serious artistic worth, she notched up further country smashes, among them ‘Joshua’, the autobiographical ‘Coat Of Many Colours’ and, with Wagoner, ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’ (the Tom Paxton folk standard), ‘Better Move It On Home’ and 1974’s ‘Please Don’t Stop Loving Me’.

On the crest of another solo hit with ‘Jolene’ on RCA Records that same year, Parton resigned from the Wagoner show to strike out on her own, though she continued to record periodically with Wagoner. Encompassing a generous portion of her own compositions, her post-1974 repertoire was less overtly country, even later embracing a lucrative stab at disco in 1979’s ‘Baby I’m Burning’ and non-originals ranging from ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ to Jackie Wilson’s ‘Higher And Higher’. ‘Jolene’ became a ‘sleeper’ UK Top 10 entry in 1976 and she continued her run in the US country chart with singles such as ‘Bargain Store’ (banned from some radio stations for ‘suggestive’ lyrics), ‘All I Can Do’ and ‘Light Of A Clear Blue Morning’ (1977). That same year, ‘Here You Come Again’ crossed into the US pop Hot 100, and Parton’s siblings basked in reflected glory - particularly Randy (b. 15 December 1955, Sevierville, Tennessee, USA), who played bass in her backing band before landing an RCA contract himself, and Stella Parton, who had already harried the country list with 1975’s ‘Ode To Olivia’ and ‘I Want To Hold You In My Dreams Tonight’.

Their famous sister next ventured into film acting, starring with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in 1980’s Nine To Five (for which she provided the title theme), and with Burt Reynolds in the film version of the musical The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. Less impressive were 1984’s Rhinestone and 1990’s Steel Magnolias. She also hosted a 1987 television variety series that lost a ratings war. Nevertheless, her success as a recording artist, songwriter and big-breasted ‘personality’ remained unstoppable. As well as ploughing back royalties for 70s cover versions of Parton numbers by Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Maria Muldaur into her Dollywood entertainment complex, she teamed up with Kenny Rogers in 1983 to reach the number 1 position in the USA and Top 10 in the UK with a Bee Gees composition, ‘Islands In The Stream’. With Rogers too, she managed another US country number 1 two years later with ‘Real Love’. Although other 80s singles such as ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Tennessee Homesick Blues’ were not major chart hits, they became as well-known as many that did.

During the 80s Parton also branched out into business when she became a co-owner of the Silver Dollar City Tennessee theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Swiftly renamed DollyWood, the park became a major tourist attraction and serious money-spinner. She also launched Dolly Partons’s Dixie Stampede dinner show theatre and invested in the Sandollar Productions film and television production company.

Parton’s music career scaled another peak when Trio, recorded with Ronstadt and Harris, won a Grammy for best country album in 1987. The same year, her CBS Records debut Rainbow represented her deepest plunge into mainstream pop, although 1989’s White Limozeen (produced by Ricky Skaggs) retained the loyalty of her multinational grassroots following. Parton’s celebration of international womanhood, ‘Eagle When She Flies’, confirmed her return to the country market in 1991. In 1992, Whitney Houston had the biggest-selling single of the year in the UK with Parton’s composition ‘I Will Always Love You’, which Houston sang in the movie The Bodyguard. Her excellent 1995 album Something Special reprised the latter song as a duet with Vince Gill. 1996’s Treasures paid tribute to singer-songwriters of the 60s and 70s, including songs by Cat Stevens and Neil Young alongside the expected country material.

In a busy 1999, Parton reunited with Harris and Ronstadt for a second trio album, and released her first ever bluegrass collection, The Grass Is Blue. The same year Parton was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. Little Sparrow (2001), in a similar style to The Grass Is Blue, was even better. In addition to ‘grassing it up’ on her own material she did exceptional interpretations of Collective Soul’s ‘Shine’ and Cole Porter’s ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’. Parton’s remarkable recent creative streak continued on 2002’s Halos & Horns with a particularly good version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’. She also resumed touring the same year after a decade-long absence from the stage (documented on the 2004 live album Live And Well).

In 2003, Parton released an album comprising spirituals and patriotic songs, a misguided and somewhat belated repsonse to the terrorist atrocities of 11 September 2001. The follow-up Those Were The Days was a better effort, with Parton covering 60s and 70s folk and pop classics with many of the original artists, including Mary Hopkin, Kris Kristofferson, Roger McGuinn, and Cat Stevens.

Don’t be fooled by appearances; Parton’s self-induced ‘cheap look’ belies an outstanding talent, both as songwriter and performer.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.