Dolly Rebecca Parton was born January 19, 1946, in a one-room cabin on the banks of the Little Pigeon River in the small unincorporated town of Locust Ridge, Tennessee in Sevier County, Tennessee. She was the fourth of twelve children born to Avie Lee Owens Parton and Robert Lee Parton, Sr.
Two of the twelve siblings have since passed on to a better place; Larry died shortly after birth in 1955, and Floyd died in 2018. Parton’s middle name comes from her maternal great-great-grandmother Rebecca Dunn Whitted. Parton’s father, known as “Lee”, worked in the mountains of East Tennessee, first as a sharecropper and later tending to his own small tobacco farm and acreage. In addition to those jobs, he also worked construction jobs to supplement the farm’s small income. Today, the legendary country music singer still considers her father “one of the smartest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and it just so happens that I call him Daddy.”
Her mother, Avie Lee, cared for their large family. Her eleven pregnancies in 20 years made her a mother of 12, with the tenth, being twins, by the age of 35. Often in poor health, she still managed to keep house and entertain her children with Smoky Mountain folklore and ancient ballads. The songs she sang were often sung by immigrants moving from the British Isles to southern Appalachia over a century earlier.
Dolly’s maternal grandfather, Jake Owens was a Pentecostal preacher, and Parton and all her siblings attended church regularly, which resulted in Parton confessing her faith in Christ at an early age. Dolly has always been an entertainer, she began performing as a child, singing on local radio and television programs in the East Tennessee area.
By the time she was ten, she was appearing on The Cas Walker Show on both WIVK Radio and WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee. At 13, she was recording on a small Louisiana label, Goldband Records, and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, where she first met Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to follow her instincts regarding her career.
After graduating from Sevier County High School in 1964, Parton moved to Nashville the following day to pursue a career in the music industry, just as Cash had suggested. Her initial success came as a songwriter, having signed with Combine Publishing shortly after her arrival.
Alongside her frequent songwriting partner, her uncle Bill Owens, she wrote several charting singles during this time, including two top-ten hits: Bill Phillip’s “Put it off Until Tomorrow” (1966) and Skeeter Davis’s “Fuel to the Flame” (1967). Her songs were recorded by many other artists during this period, including Kitty Wells and Hank Williams Jr.
In 1967, musician and country music entertainer Porter Wagoner invited Parton to join his organization, offering her a regular spot on his weekly syndicated television program The Porter Wagoner Show, and in his road show.
Dolly Parton made her presence felt in the 1960s and 1970s, along with fellow pioneers Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. When that trio revolutionized the world of country music for women performers. During a career that spans 65 years and counting, she has performed alongside many legends in the Nashville scene, such as Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Vince Gill, Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, and current country music sensation, Carrie Underwood.
To say that Dolly Parton, once a little girl who dreamed of being a country musician, has had nothing short of a legendary career is an understatement. She was inducted into Nashville, Tennessee’s Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
They don’t call her the Queen of Country for nothing.
Happy 75th Birthday, Dolly, we love you honey.