Music Dolly Parton
Philip Vandermeer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0311


Dolly Rebecca Parton, born 19 January 1946 in Locust Ridge (Sevier County), Tennessee, is an internationally renowned composer, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, publisher, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Known primarily for her work in American country music, she grew up on the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Her talents for performing and songwriting manifested themselves early; by age ten, under the mentorship of her uncle Bill Owens, she began appearing on local television performing her own songs. By age thirteen she appeared in a guest spot on the Grand Ole Opry and recorded her first single, “Puppy Love” (1959) on Goldband Records. At age eighteen she moved to Nashville, where she eventually developed a national following as a regular on The Porter Wagoner Show (1967–1974). During this time, she wrote and recorded four number one hits, as well as several biographical-based works, including the single “Coat of Many Colors” (1971) and the concept album My Tennessee Mountain Home (1973). In 1976, she hired a new manager and embarked on a decade-long period of crossover hits, television appearances, and movies, which brought her mainstream popularity. She also began expanding her business enterprises in publishing and through the creation of the Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. In 1986, she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. From 1987 to 1999 she returned to recording mostly country songs and, as a songwriter, had an international hit when Whitney Houston recorded her 1974 song “I Will Always Love You.” She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999. The years 2000 to 2020 saw her return to her roots in bluegrass and old-time music with several critically acclaimed albums. Over her career she has been nominated for two Academy Awards and one Tony Award. Additionally, she received the National Medal of Arts (2005) and the Kennedy Center Honors (2006) as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Tennessee (2009) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Country Music Association (2016). Her business and philanthropic ventures continue to grow with the expansion of Dollywood and the Imagination Library, which encourages childhood literacy as well as with her work with animal rehabilitation, support for disaster relief (specifically the 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires), and donations to COVID-19 vaccine research. Through it all she has continued to write songs. Estimates of her catalogue total more than 3,000 titles. In 2019, she celebrated her fiftieth anniversary as a member of the Grand Old Opry.

Reference Sources

Many biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias include entries for Parton but few give substantial treatments. Flippo 2012 and Neal 2020 provide detailed coverage, one by a music journalist and the other a music scholar. Danker 2006 is within the context of a regional encyclopedia, while Watson 2012 is a short entry in the standard scholarly music encyclopedia in English. Parish and Pitts 2003 covers her media career well. The online Library of Congress entry is free to the public. Selby 2021 provides the first attempt at a comprehensive discography of Parton’s recordings.

  • Danker, Frederick. “Dolly Parton.” In Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell, 1106–1107. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006.

    Encyclopedia entry by a literary and country music scholar in a major reference book on the entire Appalachian region.

  • Flippo, Chet. “Dolly Parton.” In The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music. 2d ed. Edited by Paul Kingsbury, Michael McCall, and John W. Rumble, 390–391. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    The entry on Dolly Parton was written by one of the first rock journalists to write about country music, and the author of the famous 1977 interview in Rolling Stone (see Schmidt 2017 [cited under Interviews, Family History, and Quotations]).

  • Havranek, Carrie. “Dolly Parton.” In Women Icons of Popular Music: The Rebels, Rockers, and Renegades. Vol. 2. By Carrie Havranek, 316–334. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2009.

    A detailed, critical article on Parton’s life and art that comments on her influence as a singer, songwriter, and cultural figure. A good bibliography is included.

  • Library of Congress. “Dolly Parton, 1946–.” Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

    One of the online biographies provided free by the Library of Congress. Brief, eleven-paragraph entry covering Parton’s life, career, and musical influences. Includes a five-item bibliography.

  • Neal, Jocelyn. “Parton, Dolly.” MGG Online. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2020.

    A substantial encyclopedia by a music theorist and country music scholar. Includes complete biographical information, as well as a discography (including label numbers), filmography, and bibliography. For those users who do not read German, Google Translate is available on the site.

  • Parish, James Robert, and Michael R. Pitts. Hollywood Songsters: Singers Who Act and Actors Who Sing; A Biographical Dictionary. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2003.

    Provides a lengthy eight-page biographical treatment of Dolly Parton and provides more detail about her movie and television career than other sources. Includes a discography and filmography.

  • Selby, Daniel. The Complete Illustrated Dolly Parton Discography. Albany, GA: BearManor Media, 2021.

    A comprehensive treatment of Parton’s live and studio albums and a selection of compilation albums. Also includes her recordings with Porter Wagoner; the “Trio Albums,” with Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette; as well as lists of singles, bootlegs, television appearances, movies, soundtracks, and other recorded works. The discographical information includes track listings, production information, chart data, singles released from the albums, and notes about the works. Color illustrations of the album designs are included.

  • Watson, Jada. “Parton, Dolly.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Dean Root, Philip V. Bohlman, Jonathan Cross, Honey Meconi, and John H. Roberts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    A two-paragraph encyclopedia article outlining Parton’s life and significance. Includes a five-item bibliography. Available by subscription.

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