“Dreams come true, but you gotta work for it.”
Country music living icon Dolly Parton has done it all. She is a singer-songwriter, an actress, a musician, and a businesswoman. She has truly become a staple in many worlds. Besides her musical career, she has become an accomplished actress, in such hit films as 9 to 5, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Steel Magnolias.
Parton is about to embark on a 60 date-tour she calls the Pure and Simple Tour. A scaled-down production of just four other musicians and herself, she plays all the hits her fans demand. Yet, her new material has a home on stage, as well. A fluid guitarist, as well as banjo, harp, and mountain dulcimer–player, her sweet vocal style has reigned in the world of country music for over five decades.
Dolly Rebecca Parton was born in January 1946, the fourth of 12 children born to Robert Lee and mother Avie Lee Parton. She recalls that she was “dirt poor” as a child, and lived in a one-room cabin with her growing family. Many of her early songs showcased her poverty, as in “Coat of Many Colors,” as well as tunes like “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).” Music was very important to Parton, even as a young child. She was raised in the Church of God, where her grandfather was the pastor. She began performing in church at the young age of six, starting on a homemade guitar at age seven. By age eight, she was blessed with the gift of a real guitar by her uncle.
Parton also began performing on television and radio shows in the Eastern Tennessee area when she was young. By age 10, she was appearing on two different stations in Knoxville, Tenn.; by age 13, she had recorded her first single, “Puppy Love,” for a small record label in Louisiana, Goldband Records. Then, she gave her first performance on the Grand Ole Opry, where she met Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to pursue her dreams.
After graduating high school in 1964, she promptly moved to Nashville. Her first taste of success in the music business would come from songwriting. She had signed with Combine Publishing, and co-wrote many tunes with her writing partner, her uncle Bill Owens. Together, they produced two Top 10 hits, “Put It off until Tomorrow” in 1966, and the 1967 Skeeter Davis hit, “Fuel to the Flame.” Over the years, her songs have been recorded by many artists, including Kitty Wells, Hank Williams, and many others.
Parton rose to new heights as a featured entertainer on The Porter Wagoner Show. Their first single together, “The Last Thing on My Mind,” became a Top 10 hit on the Country charts. This paved the way for many more hit singles until 1974, when Parton went out on her own. It was here she would find much more success, starting with the country-pop hit “Here You Come Again.” After many more crossover hits, the 1980s brought new life to her career. In 1980, she made her debut as an actress in the comedy 9 to 5, alongside Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Her performance was impeccable and believable. Playing the sexy, likeable secretary Dora Lee Rhodes, she shined in her first feature film. The theme song went on to reach No.1 on all three major charts—Country Music, Top40, as well as Adult Contemporary—making it a triple hit. Then she struck gold once again with her mega hit “Islands in the Stream,” a duet with Kenny Rogers.
Parton’s next film would send the artist into screen superstardom: She starred in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in the role of Madam Mona Stangley. Wildly successful, it paved the way for Parton to adapt the film for the stage, now making her a Broadway musician and playwright. It also produced another hit, “Hard Candy Christmas,” which came from the 1982 film. The track “Potential New Boyfriend” brought yet another hit, as well as an appearance on the ’80s hit show Solid Gold. She changed labels from RCA to Columbia in 1987, and continues to record and release new material today. She has won Grammy Awards, Country Music Awards, and many others, yet she remains a down-to-earth person who believes in dreams coming true, and working hard to realize them and nurture them.
Parton’s latest album, Pure and Simple, is a return to her country-bluegrass roots. When not on tour, she spends much of her time at her theme park, Dollywood, where it is not uncommon to meet her on the grounds. She has released a cookbook, 2006’s Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s-Love, Laughter and Lots of Good Food. She is also a philanthropist with a big heart and a passion for giving, especially in the area of literacy and HIV/AIDS–related charities. The Dollywood Foundation is funded from her net profits from the theme park.
In a recent interview with Parton, I asked her what fuels her to still get up every day and be Dolly Parton. “I gotta go to work,” she stated. “Dreams come true, but you gotta work for it. I guess I’m just a working girl. I love to work, and I have new dreams every day.” Everything she touches seems to turn to gold somehow, yet Parton is grateful for her gifts, and her answered dreams.
In her personal life, Parton has been married to Carl Thomas Dean for over 50 years. They renewed their vows on their 50th anniversary in 2016. And while they have had no children of their own, Parton is godmother to singer Miley Cyrus.
Having won many an award, she holds honors including three American Music Awards, eight Grammy Awards, and 10 Country Music Association awards. She has been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry (1969), and sports a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1999, Parton was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2001, she was inducted into the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriters Hall of Fame.
For sure, she is one of most accomplished women in music, and shows no sign of slowing down. She also holds a record for the most coverage of a song with the many versions of her tunes, especially “I Will Always Love You,” which was a hit single over three times—most notably for the late Whitney Houston, who recorded the song for the soundtrack to her debut film, The Bodyguard.
Parton’s Pure and Simple tour is just that: a scaled -down production focusing on the music itself. The same music that came from her heart, and won the hearts of millions of fans. As she tours the U.S., she brings with her a special light, a special love for those who simply adore her. She need not bring flashy lights or sets, but simply sit center stage on a stool with a guitar, where she takes you to another world.
One can say Dolly Parton—musician, author, playwright, songwriter, and businesswoman—has truly fulfilled her dreams. To put it plain and simple, she is one of the last of the great stars in music. | Marc Farr
Dolly Parton will be appearing at the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis on July 30. Tickets are available at the Scottrade Center Box Office, or online at www.ticketmaster.com or the artist’s website
07.19 | U.S. Cellular Center, Cedar Rapids, IA
07.20 | Grand Casino Hinckley Event Center, Hinckley, MN
07.22 | Denny Sanford Premier Center, Sioux Falls, SD
07.23 |Deadwood Mountain Grand Hotel & Casino, Deadwood, SD
07.26 | UCCU Center, Orem, UT
07.27 | Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver
07.29 | Sprint Center, Kansas City
07.30 | Scottrade Center, St. Louis
08.02 | Celeste Center, Columbus, OH
08.03 | Allen County War Mem. Coliseum, Fort Wayne, IN
08.04 | Caesars Windsor “The Colosseum,” Windsor, ON
08.06 | Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI
08.07 | Ravinia Festival at Ravinia Park, Highland Park, IL
08.10 | Ford Center, Evansville, IN
08.12 | BOK Center, Tulsa, OK
08.13 | Verizon Arena, North Little Rock, AR
09.09 | Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, Toronto, ON
09.10 | Foley Fairgrounds, Parry Sound, ON
09.13 | Mosaic Place, Moose Jaw, SK
09.16 | Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, AB
09.17 | Rogers Place, Edmonton, AB
09.19 | Rogers Arena, Vancouver, BC
09.21 | ShoWare Center, Kent, WA
09.22 | Northern Quest Casino, Airway Heights, WA
09.24 | Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA
09.25 | Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara, CA
09.27 | Valley View Casino Center, San Diego, CA
09.28 | Vina Robles Amphitheatre, Paso Robles, CA
09.30 | Laughlin Event Center, Laughlin, NV
10.01-2 | Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles
11.15 | LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge, Pigeon Forge, TN
12.08 | H-E-B Performance Hall at the Tobin Center, San Antonio