The Bubbly Writer of Melancholic Songs
She also happens to have a bubbly personality and fashion sense that never goes out of style. That makes up Dolly Parton, the icon. It does not end there. We see Dolly Parton, the philanthropist in her many projects that support causes she could very well ignore. In short, this woman is unbelievably talented and incomparably generous.
Her songs tell beautiful stories, most of them melancholic. It’s hard to trace those sad songs back to the composer who could easily light up anybody’s mood. Dolly Parton is known for her witty responses to dumb-blonde jokes. It’s a challenge to get on her nerves. That makes her a real delight to watch.
Anyone who wants to master the art of handling awkward interviews should learn from Dolly Parton who not even once got offended by remarks people throw at her concerning her bra size or quirky fashion sense. There’s no question how amazingly broad her vocabulary is for coming up with witty impromptu responses to queries that could throw an ordinary person off the wall. The writer of the saddest love songs is amazingly one of the happiest people alive today. Talk about irony!
Considered the most accomplished female country singer, Dolly Parton is a Grammy Hall of Famer. Not only that, she also earned a Tony nomination for a song she composed and sang used in a movie where she starred in. Her talent in acting permeated the movie industry where she would be seen time and again acting opposite big stars. Her first two movies even earned her nominations from respected award-giving bodies proving that she can act.
How did this 5’2” country siren get us all under her spell? She did not do anything but be herself. If we like her for what and who she is, then that makes Dolly an utterly beautiful person inside and out.
Dolly Parton’s Early Biography in the Mountains of Tennessee
Dolly Rebecca Parton was born on 19 January 1946 to a tobacco farmer named Robert Lee and his wife Avie Lee Parton. She was the fourth child of the couple who had eight more children afterwards. The family of 14 lived in a one–room cabin that’s all rusty and dilapidated. Out of poverty, Robert had to moonlight as a construction laborer after tending his farm in order to support his large family. The Partons were natives of Sevierville, Tennessee.
The Smoky Mountain National Forest was their closest neighbor along with other villagers who were mostly of Pentecostal religious leanings. Dolly grew up to Gospel songs, which later on manifested in her writing of spiritual pieces. Robert, despite his hard work, could not earn enough money to afford his family a comfortable life. All throughout the years Dolly stayed in Sevierville, their family remained to belong to the poorest of the poor.
They could be hard up in cash, but not so in talent. Dolly came from a family with a long history in singing and songwriting. Her grandfather on her mother’s side, Reverend Jake Owens, composed folk songs and played the violin. His daughter, Avie Lee, also played the guitar. Perhaps, it was growing up in a home filled with music that greatly drawn Dolly into songwriting. Besides, it is always much easier to reflect when you are surrounded by nature and serene environment.
Dolly’s mentor, or shall we say biggest fan, was her Uncle Billy—Avie’s brother. Her Uncle Billy would often take her to recording studios and local radio shows to sing. They would also record demo tapes where her Uncle Billy would sing and she would provide the harmony.
Her love of music was intensified by her Uncle Billy’s avid support. It was her uncle who gave Dolly her first guitar. She was only seven years old then. In three years, she learned to play it so well that she was given the opportunity to take part in the segment of “The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour.” It was produced by their local radio station, WIVK Knoxville, managed by someone who owned a grocery store in their village.
With her Uncle Billy’s urging, she learned how to adequately play the guitar and developed an ear for pitch. Her voice also had an ethereal quality to it that made listening to her really a thing of pleasure. At ten years old, Dolly was already earning as a regular talent in that radio station.
Performing was favorable to Dolly as she found out that she could make money in singing. In fact, it was her earnings as a child singer that enabled her to buy their family a television set, one they never experienced owning since its invention. It could only mean one thing: Dolly was very interested in what’s being shown on TV.
Quotes on Quirky Fashion
To her mother’s contempt, Dolly developed a fetish of flashy clothes and outlandish fashion, which during her childhood was considered sloppy and a total eyesore. Back then, she didn’t understand how something she thought to be beautiful was called “trash” by her mother. But Dolly was far from being convinced that red nails and stiletto shoes were ugly. The flashier the clothes are, the more appealing they seemed to her. Now 66, the Queen of Country songs remains faithful to her fashion statement:
"I always wanted pretty clothes, pretty things. And I read every book and magazine I could see and I really patterned my look with the country girls in Glamour after what they call the 'Town Tramp.’"
Going to Nashville
When Dolly was 13, she recorded a “Puppy Love” rendition under Goldband. At the young age of 14, Dolly Parton became a bonafide music talent of Mercury Records. They released her first single in 1962 entitled “It's Sure Gonna Hurt.” It did hurt Dolly’s early career as her first released single earned nil patronage. Such was Dolly’s initiation to the music industry. Mercury Records did not give the 16–year–old country singer another chance to prove herself and dropped her like a hot potato.
Disheartened, Dolly focused on her high school studies instead. She did not forget about music altogether though. While in high school, she played the snare drum in their school band. The unsuccessful attempt of starting a career in music was painful but it gave the young Dolly a sense of urgency to prove those who did not believe her wrong.
Right after graduating from high school in 1964, Dolly packed her things and took off to Nashville where her Uncle Bill lived. She could not wait to start her career. Her father would have not allowed her to go if she were a minor then, but as she just turned 18, Robert had no choice but to let her girl go and find her dreams.
Uncle and niece did not waste a single moment to find a label for the aspiring country singer. Monument Records had her record a few singles in the hope of packaging her as a “bubble gum” pop singer. Among the songs she released, only her cover of “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby" earned moderate following but did not make it to the Billboard Hot 100.
Combine Publishing gave her the break she needed not as a singer but as a songwriter. She promptly went to work and soon came out with beautiful pieces, namely, "Put it off Until Tomorrow" and "Fuel to the Flame.” Both compositions charted in the Top Ten. The aspiring singer was proving herself as a serious composer. Not only did Dolly found a career upon arriving in Nashville, she also found the man who would later on become her husband.
Meeting Carl Thomas
It was Dolly’s first day at Nashville and she did not have any time to do her laundry back home. As soon as she arrived, she went to the Wishy-Washy Laundromat and there she saw Carl Thomas Dean. She was not really into looking for a romantic flame that time, having left a sweetheart back in Sevierville. However, the two couldn’t deny the chemistry between them and began dating shortly after.
The year when Dolly’s compositions began becoming popular, she married Carl on 30 May 1966. Up until now, the boy she met at the Laundromat remains to be her husband for 47 years. It was their first marriage and they are proud for enduring 47 years of spending time together every single day. Very few celebrities of her status achieve a lasting marriage. Carl’s low-profile could be a factor why the two managed to keep their marriage from breaking up in spite of Dolly’s popularity.
It was Carl’s spontaneity that Dolly would often rave about, saying that she found it really endearing to receive poems her husband specially wrote for her. It shows us that one of the things they enjoy doing together is creating compositions. The poet in Carl found his soulmate in Dolly. Although the two never had children, they acted as parents to some of Dolly’s younger siblings, nieces, and nephews. Coming from a big family, there’s really no pressure for them to have biological children.
Put It Off Until Tomorrow Cover becomes Famous
Back to the making of a star… Dolly, married and happy, was still yet to become a singer by 1966. The previous year’s career venture as an artist under Monument Records was not encouraging. Dolly knew that something was amiss. She was not being promoted as a country singer but an artist in a totally different genre—a genre she did not identify with. The result was a disaster. She was aware of her strength as a performer and she knew that what she needed was a break in singing country music.
Dolly tried to convince Monument Records to allow her to record country songs. They did not listen to her request because they thought country material was an odd pair for her unique voice. It was until Bill Philips sung her composition “Put it Off until Tomorrow” that she proved Monument Records wrong about their suspicion that she couldn’t sing country.
It came by accident as Bill requested she sing with him to add substance to the song. Dolly was more than happy to oblige. Fortunately, “Put it Off until Tomorrow” made it to Billboard Hot 100 at number six in 1966. What even made Dolly gladder was that everybody loved her participation in the single. People wanted to know whom the female voice belonged to. We can’t really blame them. Dolly’s voice had that effect on people.
Left with no choice, Monument Records finally granted Dolly’s request to record country songs. The first single she covered then was “Dumb Blonde” which landed at number 24 on the country music charts. Also in 1967, her single “Something Fishy” fared even better than “Dumb Blonde” when it landed at the 17th spot. Those two hit singles comprised the first album she released, the “Hello, I’m Dolly.”
Teaming Up with Porter Wagoner
Porter Wagoner was intrigued by the charming country singer. When Dolly was beginning to attract attention and following, Porter sent someone to talk to her to arrange them a meeting. Dolly went, her guitar slung around her shoulder, expecting Porter to ask her to sing for him. Much to her surprise, Porter offered her an enticing job opportunity. Norma Jean, one of his performers in his weekly TV program “The Porter Wagoner Show,” left.
Porter wanted Dolly to replace her. It did not take much persuading to have Dolly join the show. “The Porter Wagoner Show” also happened to be having roadshows that time. The fans were upset when they found out that Porter replaced Norma Jean. Whenever Dolly took the stage, they would scream for Norma Jean. It took sometime before the crowd and viewers warmed up to her.
Porter found a protégé in Dolly. Acting like a real mentor, he convinced his label, RCA Victor, to give Dolly a contract. They were not so welcoming. In order to get Porter off their back, they had Dolly sing a duet with him. They wanted to have a sort of fall-back just in case Dolly does not sell to the audience. At least with Porter already a known artist in the music industry, they would somehow be able to find a way to market the single.
Dolly’s first “single” in RCA Victor was a cover of Tom Paxton’s "The Last Thing on My Mind." After the single broke into the Top Ten country music chart, RCA Victor knew that they found a new artist in Dolly. It was the beginning of a long and successful partnership with Porter.
Porter’s label was now friendlier to Dolly. They packaged her as a country singer. Dolly’s next single as a solo artist “Just Because I'm a Woman” was not as well-received as her duet with Porter. Unlike "The Last Thing on My Mind," “Just Because I'm a Woman” only landed at number 17, a far cry from the former’s sixth slot. Not giving up, Dolly released another single "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)" before the sixties decade ended. It had the same fate as her first real solo single.
Even after winning the Vocal Group of the Year with Porter in 1968, Dolly was not thrilled as her singles lamely fared. The unsuccessful charting of Dolly’s single frustrated Porter even more. He had such high hopes for Dolly that he bought part of Owepar to show her his support and also produced some of her singles. Owepar was a publishing company which Dolly’s Uncle Billy started as they were also into songwriting.
First Grammy Nomination
The sixties drew to a close and Dolly remained an almost anonymous country artist. It would seem that Dolly was taking the path of another one–hit–wonder artists who never recovered their fame after a well-received album or single. In 1970, out of desperation, Porter had Dolly do a rendition of “Mule Skinner Blues,” a Jimmie Rodgers composition that went back as far as the 30s. It gained Dolly her much–awaited patronage as the single became popular and even broke her old record with Porter. Her 1970 single made it to the charts at number three.
Without Porter, Dolly proved that she could be called an artist in her own right. It was just about the right song being released at the right time. Her “Mule Skinner Blues” version was so successful that it earned Dolly her first Grammy nomination.
Joshua Tops the Charts
February 1971 marked Dolly’s induction into fame. "Joshua" topped the charts making Dolly a professional country singer and an effective songwriter. “Joshua” was a significant single in many ways. It was Dolly’s first single that landed at the first spot, it was the song which earned her recognition in the Grammy as a solo artist, and it was a song of her very own composition. It told the story of a curious girl who braved to trespass the property of Joshua who people believed to be mean:
Well a good ways down the railroad track
There was this little old rundown shack
And in it lived a man I'd never seen
Folks said he was a mean and a vicious man
And you better not set foot on his land
I didn't think nobody could be that mean
So I took me out walking down the railroad track
I was a-gonna go down to that little old shack
And just find out if all them things I'd heard was true
There was a big black dog laying out in the yard
And it growled at me and I swallowed hard
And I heard somebody say well who are you
Oh and there he stood in the door of that shack
His beard and his hair was long and black
And he was the biggest man I'd ever seen
When he spoke his voice was low and deep
But he just didn't frighten me
'Cause somehow I just knew he wasn't mean
He said what you doing snooping 'round my place
And I saw a smile come across his face
So I smiled back and I told him who I was
He said come on in and pull you up a chair
You might as well since you already here
And he said you can call me Joshua
Whatcha doing living here all alone
Ain't you got nobody to call your own
No no no no
We talked 'til the sun was clean out of sight
And we still talking when it come daylight
And there was just so much we had to say hey
I'd spent my life in an orphan's home
And just like him I was all alone
So I said yeah when he asked if I'd stay
Oh we grew closer as time went on
And that little old shack it was a happy home
And we just couldn't help but fall in love
That big black dog and that little old shack
Sitting down by the railroad track
It's plenty good enough for me and Joshua
Why you're just what I've been looking for
You ain't gonna be lonesome anymore
Me and Joshua
Me and Joshua
Me and Joshua yeah yeah
Me and Joshua
Coat of Many Colors Lyrics
It’s obvious that Dolly had the gift for telling stories. From then on, many of her songs alluded to folktales that invaded her memory as a child growing up in the rural part of Tennessee. “Coat of Many Colors,” her next single hit, would later on be remembered as one of her best. Like “Joshua,” it also had the same haunting effect on people:
Back through the years I go wonderin' once again
Back to the seasons of my youth
I recall a box of rags that someone gave us
And how my momma put the rags to use
There were rags of many colors and every piece was small
And I didn't have a coat and it was way down in the fog
Momma sewed the rags together sewin' every piece with love
She made my coat of many colors that I was so proud of
As she sewed, she told a story from the Bible, she had read
About a coat of many colors Joseph wore and then she said
"Perhaps this coat will bring you good luck and happiness"
And I just couldn't wait to wear it and momma blessed it with a kiss
My coat of many colors that my momma made for me
Made only from rags but I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money oh I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors my momma made for me
So with patches on my britches and holes in both my shoes
In my coat of many colors I hurried off to school
Just to find the others laughing and making fun of me
In my coat of many colors my momma made for me
And oh I couldn't understand it for I felt I was rich
And I told them of the love my momma sewed in every stitch
And I told 'em all the story momma told me while she sewed
And how my coat of many colors was worth more than all their clothes
But they didn't understand it and I tried to make them see
That one is only poor only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money but I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors my momma made for me
Made just for me
Dolly would always drop the title of that song whenever she’s asked to name a favorite among her compositions. Back then, songs were taken seriously. A composer had to be profoundly inspired to produce songs that were considered works of art. To think that the composer then sung her own song … Only Dolly Parton could do this piece justice.
Jolene Validates Her Success in Songwriting
The years that followed were not as difficult as the previous ones for Dolly. Her compositions touched millions and her soulful rendition of them effectively evoked emotions even the toughest of men were not immune. In 1973, Dolly released an album titled “Jolene” that included the “Jolene” single. It’s an upbeat song that tells the story of a woman whose husband is having an affair with a woman named Jolene. It became an instant hit—number one both in the Canada Country Singles and US Country Songs (Billboard). The Rolling Stone magazine also ranked it at number 219 list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
Pens I Will Always Love You for Porter
1974 came and Dolly felt she was capable enough of producing her own songs. It was a good plan only that it also meant severing ties with her longtime friend and partner, Porter. An argument naturally ensued following Dolly’s declaration of wanting to be independent. Porter would not have any of it and Dolly was left with no option but tell him how she felt in a song.
All her bottled up emotions translated into the unforgettable “I Will Always Love You.” After completing the piece, Dolly again went to see the still sulky Porter. She started singing and Porter started crying. That did it. Porter let Dolly go. It was sad but it meant the whole world to Dolly.
It was a wise move for both of them. Dolly, without RCA Victor, did what she felt she had to do—reinvent herself. She did pop music and started her own syndicated TV show, “Dolly!” Now looking like her once–admired cover girls who people called tramps, Dolly had ever since been known to dress in bright colors and sport elaborate hairstyle. She became more and more popular until her compositions and songs dominated the airwaves.
Dollywood Helps People in Dolly’s Hometown
Dollywood was Dolly’s gift to the people in her hometown. She wanted to give them a glimpse of happiness that poverty and hard labor obscure. Dolly also used her fame and popularity to promote social awareness concerning poverty and HIV-related issues.
Part of herself as a songwriter now lives forever in the legacy of the beautiful songs she left us. For all she did and accomplished, she asks for one thing:
"I hope to never retire. Only if I were sick or my husband's sick and he needed me, will I ever not be working 'til the day I die... I meant it. I just love to be caught dead in the middle of a song, hopefully, one I wrote."
They lied when they said blondes are dumb.
Organisations and Campaigns Supported
- Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes
- Boot Campaign
- Cancer Research UK
- Dogs Deserve Better
- Operation Once in a Lifetime
- Save the Music Foundation
- Dollywood Foundation
- Dolly Parton's Imagination Library
- American Red Cross
- HIV/AIDS-related charities
- Dr. Robert F. Thomas Hospital
- 1969: Inducted into Grand Ole Opry
- 1978: Named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association
- 1984: Awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording
- 1986: Named by Ms. Magazine's as one of the Women of the Year
- 1986: Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
- 1988: Inducted into the Small Town of America Hall of Fame
- 1988: Inducted into the East Tennessee Hall of Fame
- 1990: Received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Carson Newman College
- 1999: Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame
- 2000: Received the AAP Honors Award
- 2001: Inducted into the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame
- 2001: Received the first Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval
- 2002: Number 4 in the CMT's 40 Greatest Women of Country Music
- 2002: Received the Galaxy Award from American Association of School Administrators
- 2002: Received the Chasing Rainbows Award from the National State Teachers of the Year
- 2003: Received the Child and Family Advocacy Award from the Parents as Teachers National Center
- 2003: Honored in a tribute - Just Because I'm a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton
- 2003: Inducted into the Junior Achievement of East Tennessee Business Hall of Fame
- 2003: Received the Partnership Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- 2004: Received the Living Legend Medal from the U.S. Library of Congress
- 2005: Received the National Medal of Arts from the U.S. government
- 2006: Published a cookbook Dolly's Dixie Fixin’s: Love, Laughter and Lots of Good Food and donated the profits to Dollywood Foundation
- 2006: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts awarded her with Kennedy Center Honors
- 2006: Inducted into the Americana Highway Hall of Fame
- 2007: Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame Award
- 2007: Recipient of Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution
- 2008: Inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame - Songwriter Category
- 2009: Inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame
- 2009: Inducted into the Music City Walk of Fame
- 2009: Gave a commencement speech at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's College of Arts and Sciences
- 2009: Received Doctorate of Humane and Musical Letters Honorary Degree from University of Tennessee
- 2010: Inducted into the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame
- 2010: Her Dollywood Park was awarded the Liseberg Applause Award
- 2011: Awarded the Lifetime Achievement Grammy
- 26 songs garnered number 1 spot on the Billboard country charts
- 42 Top Ten country albums
- 110 of her songs charted in her 40-year career
- Topped 100 million records worldwide with all her revenues put together
- Received eight Grammy Awards
- Holds the title of Female Artist with most Grammy Award Nominations - 45 in total
- Won three American Music Awards
- Have 42 American Music Awards Nominations
- Won seven Academy of Country Music awards
- Have 39 Academy of Country Music Nominations
- Has two Academy Award Nominations
- Has one Tony Award Nomination
- Awarded a Nashville Star Walk for Grammy winners
- Had a bronze sculpture erected for her by the people of Sevierville