The most honored female country music star of all time, Dolly Parton still wows the crowds at age 70
by Amanda Smith
After 25 years, country darling Dolly Parton is back on top – her new release Pure & Simple debuted at #1 not only in the U.S., but, also on the national country charts in Canada, U.K. and Australia. Her first chart-topping album since 1992, Dolly’s definitely back on top – just don’t call it a comeback.
“I never let up,” Dolly told Jimmy Kimmel in October. “I’m always behind the scenes working and when people say I’m having a comeback I say, well, where’d I go? I thought I was still here.”
For over 50 years, if Dolly wasn’t writing ballads like, “I Will Always Love You,” – later made famous by Whitney Houston – or performing legendary tunes like country classic “Jolene,” she always had plenty of projects on her plate. She not only starred in the 1980 hit comedy 9 to 5, marking her film debut, she also contributed to its soundtrack. She opened her very own theme park aptly named “Dollywood” in 1986, and then in the 90s, she took to exploring her Appalachian roots, collaborating with such talents as Alison Krauss and Patty Loveless to record, “The Grass is Blue,” which earned Dolly a Grammy for best bluegrass album in 1999.
Dolly’s no stranger to recognition, clocking in as the most honored female country artist of all time; she’s had 41 Top Ten country albums, 25 number one hits, 25 RIAA certified gold, platinum, and multi-platinum albums, more Grammy nominations than any female vocalist (except Beyoncé, who broke her record in 2015), not to mention sales of her music, which have topped 100 million units worldwide.
The Backwoods Barbie may be best known for the size of her hair and the size of her figure, but don’t be afraid to take a closer look. Beneath the unforgettable exterior, Dolly has a great sense of humor and an even greater sense of philanthropy – a spirit of giving that is always grounded in remembering where she came from.
Dolly speaks freely of coming from real poverty, growing up with 11 siblings and a father who couldn’t read or write – making the issue of literacy one she’d never forget.
The charitable program she created was simple, yet stunningly effective. She started the Imagination Library with an easy enough idea – she wanted to put more books in more homes. It began in her home county, where she encouraged her neighbors to sign-up their babies, and from birth to Kindergarten, once a month the child would receive a book.
Launched in 1995, it grew quickly. Simple and direct, the Imagination Library has found a way to give the gift of literacy by tapping into the power of a child, even a small one, receiving a book, addressed to them, the title of which is a surprise. By 2016, 60 million books have been sent to children.
And if you consider Dollywood from an economic perspective, it’s not only a job factory – it brings tons of tourist dollars to the middle of an otherwise poverty-stricken region where Dolly had her humble beginnings.
After all, had it not been for a chance meeting with Johnny Cash at the Grand Ole Opry when Dolly was just a young teenager, the world may have never even heard one of the estimated 3,000 songs Dolly’s penned over the years. “I had a chance to perform there,” she recalled, “and a chance to sit and watch Johnny perform. He’s like the John Wayne of country music.”
When she met Cash on that fateful day, he urged her to follow her dreams, an encouragement that was enough to motivate her to move to Nashville the day after graduating high school. The rest, as they say, is history.
With a career spanning over half a century, Dolly’s climbed many mountains – musical, theatrical, philanthropical – you’d think at 70, Dolly might kick back and enjoy the fruits of her labor. But Dolly’s idea of “scaling back” is an international tour and a chart-topping album with “scaled-back” production. Far from the typical glitz and glamour she’s associated with, her new album Pure and Simple is full of stripped-down arrangements, but offers a long-desired glimpse into the 50-year marriage between Dolly and her husband who has long remained a total mystery. Perhaps Dolly is finally shedding a little light on the relationship because of the longstanding loyalty of her fans.
“I just love what I do,” she says. “And I love the people. People kind of feel like they grew up with me, like I’m a sister or an aunt and I’m just glad they’re still with me, along for the ride.”
Dolly comes to Florida
11/26: Tampa – Amalie Arena
11/27: Sunrise – BB&T Center
11/29: Pensacola – Pensacola Bay Ctr
DOLLY PARTON: DOWN-HOME PHILANTHROPIST
- The Dolly Foundation provides $60,000/yr in scholarships at Sevier County’s high schools.
- Donates to provide school computers, TAs & supplies; addressed the area’s dropout rate with a program promising 7th and 8th graders a $500 check if they graduated high school
- Gave $100,000 for a local birthing unit so residents could avoid driving to Knoxville to deliver babies·
- Opening Dollywood, which employs 2,200 and bolsters the local tax base.