On October 9, 1978, Dolly Parton received the coveted Entertainer of the Year Award at the 12th annual Country Music Awards. To this day, she is one of only seven female artists to win this award. As of 2017, the “Queen of Country” has scored 25 #1 hits, 41 top ten hits and has sold 100 million records worldwide. Aside from her incredible music and film career, Parton is equally known for her sex appeal, sassy one-liners, keen business sense, and an inspiring dedication to childhood literacy.
Famous for her down-home yet larger-than-life persona that matches her over-the-top fashion sense – rhinestone-studded gowns that accentuate her hourglass shape, an original “big hair, don’t care” blonde beehive, and sky high stilettos – Parton came from humble beginnings. Born in Locust Ridge, TN on January 19, 1946, Parton was one of 12 children in what she has called “a dirt poor family.” Resources were low but music was everywhere, thanks to her music-loving family and the local church. In that environment, Parton fostered her love for music at a young age. She started performing professionally at 10 years old, and three years later she made her Grand Ole Opry debut. In 1966, Parton became a household name when she joined “The Porter Wagoner Show.” She was on the show until 1974.
While performing with Wagoner, Parton embarked on her career as a solo artist. In the 1970s, she started to hit her groove, with songs including “Joshua,” “Jolene,” and, her first crossover hit, “Here I Come Again.” The professional break-up between Parton and Wagoner lead to her penning “I Will Always Love You” which became a smash hit single for her in 1974 and then for many other artists, including Whitney Houston.
Parton might be known for her self-deprecating “dumb blonde jokes,” but she is one of the savviest women in show business. When Elvis Presley approached her about covering “I Will Always Love You,” Parton took one look at the standard Presley record contract and turned him down. She would have been forced to turn over half of the song’s publishing rights.
After winning Entertainer of the Year at the CMAs in 1978, Parton solidified her cultural icon status in the 1980s. With her performance as Doralee Rhodes in “9 to 5,” alongside Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman, and her eponymous hit song with the same title, Parton was a part of a boundary-breaking comedic film that explored sisterhood in the workforce. Her lyrics to the title song (“They let you dream, just to watch ’em shatter, you’re just a step on the boss-man’s ladder/but you got dreams/he’ll never take away”) is still an inspiring theme song for women striving to break the workplace glass ceiling. Prior to “9 To 5,” Parton was not a stranger to writing female empowerment anthems. Her first solo radio hit, 1968’s “Just Because I’m A Woman,” was about double standards between the sexes.
Still relevant six decades later, Parton has had other memorable film roles such as Truvy Jones in “Steel Magnolias,” started her own theme park, Dollywood, continues to share her hilarious jokes with the world (“I need the money. It costs a lot to look this cheap.”), and champions childhood literacy – her Imagination Library charity has raised over $750,000 for low-income preschool children. A proud godmother to Miley Cyrus, Parton has proven to other female artists that you can still be taken seriously as a performer and businesswoman without sacrificing your sass and sex appeal.