Dolly Parton First Performed at the Grand Ole Opry at Surprisingly Young Age

by Keeli Parkey
(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

It’s an understatement to say that Dolly Parton has had a legendary career in country music. She has received numerous awards and honors, had dozens of hit songs, acted in popular films, and much more.

But even for a legend like Dolly Parton, how old she was when she performed at the Grand Ole Opry for the first time is pretty impressive. What age is that you’re probably asking? Was she in her earlier 20s? Nope. Her late teens? Nope.

According to her website, Dolly Parton was only 13 years old when she took the stage at the iconic performance venue for the very first time. And, she got up there and performed like she already owned it. She is the one and only Dolly Parton, after all.

The year was 1959. Prior to her first Opry appearance, Dolly and her Uncle Bill Owens were performing on the Cas Walker Show.

Appearances on that show helped them get their chance to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. According to Parton’s website, Carl and Pearl Butler, friends of Dolly and her uncle helped convince Jimmy C. Newman to let Dolly perform in one of his usual Saturday evening slots.

Johnny Cash Introduced Dolly Parton During her First Grand Ole Opry Appearance

To make it even better, guess who introduced the 13-year-old Dolly Parton. It was none other than the Man in Black himself – Johnny Cash, according to the website.

“We’ve got a little girl here from up in East Tennessee. Her daddy’s listening to the radio at home and she’s gonna be in real trouble if she doesn’t sing tonight, so let’s bring her out here,” Cash said.

As she took the Grand Ole Opry stage in the Ryman Auditorium, young Dolly spotted the famous WSM microphone. Her website said she was “in awe” as she stood on the stage. But, she was a true performer even back then. Setting her nerves aside, she gave the audience in the auditorium and at home a great show.

“As I heard the band play my introduction, I lifted my head and looked up toward the lights. I smiled at the people in the balcony and then let ‘er rip,” Parton has reportedly said.

So, what was Dolly’s song choice that night? The website says she chose “You Gotta Be My Baby” by George Jones. Here are a few lyrics from the song: “Oh, when you’re high steppin’ I’m a crawlin’ low/ I get suspicious and I’m a gonna tell you so / If you wanna be my baby / Then you gotta be my baby / And be nobody’s baby but mine.”

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Dolly Parton was a big hit with Grand Ole Opry fans on that night in 1959. She even received three encores.