Dolly Paved the Way

Welcome to Dollywood

April 10, 2024

As Taylor Swift enjoys her reign as queen of modern music, having triumphantly taken back her catalogue while selling out arenas worldwide — as Beyonce rides her wave of pop brilliance into uncharted waters with her Superbowl Sunday announcement of an upcoming country music album — as Miley Cyrus delves deeper into eclectic sounds and unexpected collaborations while maintaining Top 40 status— as Katy Perry sings her heart out to adoring crowds across the globe — and as Madonna celebrates her decades of universal pop dominance with a new album and yet another sold out world tour, it becomes ever clearer that, yes: girls do run the world.

yes: girls do run the world.

As we rightfully celebrate these modern women of wonder and their manifold accomplishments, it’s important to look back and remember that in the public sphere, space is not given, it is taken. While their individual accomplishments are definitely no one’s but their own, they would be the first to tell you that they are all indebted to the pioneering women that came before them, carved out the path and laid the groundwork. And out of all of those pioneering ladies that preceded our modern day divas, there is arguably no one as important in that regard than the one and only Dolly Parton.

Ah yes, Dolly Parton. A true icon of modern pop culture. The stuff of legend. Dolly Parton is a trailblazer who has for over half a century in the spotlight consistently followed her heart and done things her own way, reaching millions of dedicated fans while creating a paradigm for all independent minded artists to follow.


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dolly parton

early stage and album cover-worn ensemble, with record album

Sold Price


Indeed, she is so deeply enmeshed in the public consciousness at this point that listing her various successes and accolades is all but unnecessary. Name an award and she’s won it, name a chart — she’s topped it. She has through the course of her storied career written over 3,000 songs and sold over a hundred million records, somehow managing to take time to star in a number of hit movies and build a theme park empire along the way. And that’s saying nothing about her various humanitarian efforts, for which she is rightfully lauded.

Born Dolly Rebecca Parton in January of 1946, the fourth of twelve siblings, Dolly comes from humble beginnings. Raised in a one bedroom cabin on a subsistence farm in Locust Ridge, Tennessee (a recreation of which stands in her theme park, Dollywood), she showed a remarkable gift for music from a very young age. Her first live performances were given in church at the tender age of six, and she was writing her first songs by ten years old, around the time she first started performing for radio broadcasts. As she grew, so did the demand for her talents. At age thirteen, she played her first show at the Grand Ole Opry, where she first met Johnny Cash (who sagely advised her to always follow her heart when it came to music and the industry).

1970s Stage-Worn Cape
1970s Stage-Worn Cape
1977 Stage-Worn Cape
1970s Photo-Matched Cape

1. Dolly Parton: 1970s Stage-Worn Cape, 2. Dolly Parton: 1977 Stage-Worn Cape, 3. Dolly Parton: 1970s Photo-Matched Cape, 4. Dolly Parton: 1970s Stage-Worn Cape,

Dolly kept playing throughout her teens, honing her craft and becoming a formidable songwriter as well as a dynamite stage performer. In 1964, the day after she graduated high school, she made the move out to country music haven Nashville to pursue a career in music. She quickly saw success as a songwriter, penning several songs that charted for stars of the day. At age nineteen she signed with Monument Records, who pigeonholed her as a bubblegum pop singer (due to her unique soprano voice) and refused to let her record country material, despite her pleas. After a string of moderately successful singles, Monument finally relented in letting her go country. Her first country single, ‘Dumb Blonde’ did well in the country charts and set her on a course to world domination.

Things really started happening for Ms. Parton in 1967, when country music powerhouse Porter Wagoner invited her to join his weekly television broadcasts and ongoing road show. Despite initial resistance from Wagoner’s audience, the exposure quickly made her a household name, their collaboration resulting in a number of formidable hits and a solo record deal with RCA Victor.

It wasn’t until 1973, however, that Dolly’s true potential was realized with the release of one of her biggest hits (and perennial fan favorite), ‘Jolene’, which rocked the Country and Hot 100 charts. In the wake of its success, Dolly decided to cease working with Porter Wagoner and go solo, as had been her dream all along. The split was amicable to say the least, and it inspired one of Dolly’s all time greatest hits, 1974’s ‘I Will Always Love You’.

An enduring classic for the ages, ‘I Will Always Love You’ won Dolly a new generation of fans when Whitney Houston gave her spine-chilling rendition of it in the early ‘90s. Lesser known is the fact that the one and only Elvis Presley planned to cover the track during his comeback years, with Dolly refusing him the honor once she learned that he would take half the songwriting credits. A good decision, in retrospect.

The rest is history, so to speak. Dolly kept churning out hits. She starred in a few movies. She made pop records. Then back to country. She opened a theme park. She invested heavily in her area. She had work done, lots of it (“It costs a lot to look this cheap,” she likes to joke). Unapologetic and fiercely independent, it’s like she always knew who she was and simply had to grow into it. And then beyond it.

What has set Dolly Parton apart since the very beginning, aside from her tremendous musical talent, is her unwavering resilience, authenticity and unwavering embrace of her own identity. She is the American Dream embodied, simply by virtue of being herself.

And it is thus that she has created a space for all that come behind her, lifting them up while casting an undeniable shadow.

Dolly Parton on Stage



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