A History of Dolly Parton – Sevierville’s Most Adored Citizen

Dolly Parton’s contributions to the world are notable: an award-winning, chart-topping songwriter and entertainer, she’s had an impact across the globe as well as back home in her birthplace of Sevierville, TN. Born to a humble family of hard work and modest means, Parton always vowed to give back to the community that raised her in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, and that’s just what she’s done with Dollywood, a top visitor attraction—and employer—in her home county near Pigeon Forge, TN.

Dolly Parton was born in the 1940s in a one-room cabin tucked into the Smoky Mountains. One of 12 children, she quickly stood out as a talented singer in her family’s church and was making television and radio performances before the age of 10. Just a few years later, Dolly appeared on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and began recording her own singles and tracks with other bands.

Dolly’s career continued to blossom not just as a singer, but as a songwriter, too. Dolly has penned more than 3,000 songs, including many memorable hits, like “I Will Always Love You,” which was a number one hit on the country chart in 1974 and later enjoyed renewed fame as a cover by Whitney Houston for the 1992 film, The Bodyguard. During this period of success on the music charts, Dolly also had a breakout role as a costar to Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the comedy 9 to 5, which helped secure her status as a country to pop crossover star.

But Dolly Parton was never content with just gaining accolades for herself. In 1986, she purchased the theme park that would become Dollywood and has expanded the park over the years to include new attractions, live shows, plus special events and festivals. The Dollywood Company employs around 3,000 people in the area, making it the largest employer in the area.

In addition to her focus on boosting the tourist economy in the Smokies, Dolly has also consistently promoted early literacy. This effort was inspired in part by Parton’s own father, who struggled with illiteracy for all of his life. In the 1990s, Parton started a new initiative, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends children in Sevierville a free new book every month from birth until kindergarten. The program, which has now expanded to all 50 states and several other countries, sent out its 100 millionth book in 2018.

Today, Dolly Parton’s career and commitment to her community remain strong. In 2016, she celebrated her 50th anniversary with her husband, Carl Thomas Dean, and, during that same year, toured the country in one of her largest tours to date, stopping at 64 cities in the U.S. and Canada. Dolly has also been active in her community yet again, this time in response to the wildfires that blazed through the Smokies and destroyed many homes in the area. At the end of 2016, Dolly announced her My People Fund, which sent $1,000 per month to affected families for 5 months. That effort amplified when Dolly sent an additional $5,000 to each of the struggling families and established the Mountain Tough Recovery Team, which launched in the summer of 2017 with the goal of providing ongoing support to people and organizations affected by the wildfires.

It’s clear why Dolly Parton is a beloved daughter of Sevierville! Her talent, charisma, and compassion have provided entertainment and support to countless people across the world, and her larger than life presence continues to drive an average of 2.5 million visitors per year to Dollywood. Ready to pay homage to the Smoky Mountain Songbird? Start planning your trip today, and get to know the life and legacy of the one and only, Dolly Parton!

Dolly Parton By the Numbers

  • 25 number one country singles
  • 55 Top 10 country hits
  • 8 Top 40 pop hits
  • 26 gold and platinum record awards
  • 7 Grammy Awards (and 44 nominations)
  • 11 CMA Awards
  • 2 Oscar nominations (Best Song)
  • 5 Golden Globe nominations (3 for acting) and an Emmy nomination
  • More than 100 million records sold