Firsts to Know: Dolly Parton

by Jim Casey
firsts-to-know-dolly-parton

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try to be like Dolly Parton. Her list of successes are as epic as her hairstyles.

Wanna learn some Firsts about the Smoky Mountain Songbird (coolest nickname ever), keep reading.

1. First Home: Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home

Dolly Parton was born on Jan. 19, 1946, in Locust Ridge, Tenn. The fourth of 12 children, Dolly and her family lived in a one-room cabin in the Smoky Mountains in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Dolly paid tribute to her rural upbringing with her 1973 album, My Tennessee Mountain Home, which depicted a photo of her childhood home on the album cover. While the original cabin still stands in Locust Ridge, Dolly’s brother, Bobby, constructed a replica of the cabin at her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

2. First Song: ‘Puppy Love’

As a 10-year-old in 1956, Dolly performed on a local TV/radio program, The Cas Walker Show, in Knoxville, Tenn. As an 11-year-old, she co-penned “Puppy Love” with her uncle, Bill Owens. A couple of years later, Dolly and her grandmother, Rena Owens, took a 30-hour bus trip to Lake Charles, La., to record “Puppy Love” for Gold Band Records when she was just 13 years old.

3. First Last Laugh: High School

A 1964 graduate of Sevier County High in Sevierville, Tenn., Dolly said she wasn’t well-liked in school. “In fact, I was actively disliked by many—especially the other girls,” she recalled in her 1994 autobiography. “I liked to dress flashy and I earned a reputation for being a tramp. Of course, these rumors made me very popular with the boys. I was not athletic or physical. I wanted to dream, create, sing, and write.” On the final day of school, every member of Dolly’s senior class had to stand and announce their plans. “I’m going to Nashville to become a star,” Dolly said proudly. “The entire place erupted in laughter,” she said. The next day, Dolly moved to Nashville. Obviously, Dolly Parton got the last laugh.

4. First Big Break: ‘The Porter Wagoner Show’

In 1967, Dolly finally caught her big break when Porter Wagoner picked her to replace Norma Jean as the featured female singer on his show. Porter famously became her manager and duet partner. After seven years together on Porter’s roadshow and TV program—and numerous hits together, including No. 1 single “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me”—the relationships soured when Dolly decided to pursue her solo career. Porter sued Dolly Parton for $3 million, alleging a breach of contract. The pair eventually settled out of court and reconciled before Porter’s death in 2007. Her relationship with Porter inspired Dolly to write “I Will Always Love You” (more on that below).

5. First No. 1 Single: ‘Joshua’

Dolly released a string of singles in the 1960s before she topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with “Joshua” in 1971. Penned by Dolly, the tune was nominated for Best Country Vocal Performance – Female at the Grammy Awards in 1972.

6. First ‘Playboy’ Cover: 1978

Dolly Parton, 32, appeared on the cover of Playboy in October 1978 dressed in the brand’s iconic bunny outfit and ears. While she got first billing on the cover and was the subject of an in-depth article, she was not featured as the centerfold. No nudity. Tasteful, Dolly. Will she pose on the cover again at age 75 in 2021?

And yeah, Dolly was also responsible for the meme below in 2020.

7. First Freak Song: ‘I Will Always Love You’

“I Will Always Love You” hit No. 1 for Dolly on June 8, 1974, but that was only the beginning. The song went on to have an incredibly long-lasting afterlife. Parton featured the song in her 1982 movie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and it again reached the top of the charts. In 1992, Whitney Houston’s soaring rendition, featured on the soundtrack to the movie The Bodyguard, was a No. 1 pop hit for several weeks. Three years later, Dolly and Vince Gill united on a duet version, taking it to No. 15.

8. First Flop: ‘Rhinestone’

Dolly became a star of the silver screen with her portrayals of Doralee Rhodes in 1980s 9 to 5 and Mona Stangley in 1982’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. But her 1984 musical comedy Rhinestone with Sylvester Stallone was a critical and financial flop. Why do we mention this? Because Dolly Parton has a knack for putting everything into perspective, even what the public deems a failure.

“I always try to look for God’s success, not mine,” said Dolly to Country Weekly magazine in 2006. “I always pray and try to let God do His business. If something don’t work, I try to think, ‘Well, now you prayed about it and you sincerely were honest. You just can’t ask God to give you just what you want. Maybe God wants it to be this way, for whatever reason.’ So I try to find the bigger purpose, see the higher picture. And, through the years, you learn, and it depends on whose success you’re talking about.

“Just like the movie Rhinestone. That was critically a big bomb. But it came at a time when I was coming off an illness and a bad time in my life. And getting back doing that movie, working around somebody as healthy and loony as Sylvester Stallone—it was a huge success for me, personally. It really helped heal and mend me in a way that made my future work great. So, who’s to say what prayer is answered or what’s truly a success or failure?”

9. First Pee-Wee Duet: ABC’s ‘Dolly’

Dolly has performed some pretty amazing duets during her storied career, including “Islands in the Stream” with Kenny Rogers, “From Here to the Moon and Back” with Kris Kristofferson, “Just Someone I Used to Know” with Porter Wagoner, and more. However, Dolly took her dueting skills to another stratosphere during the 1987 debut episode of her ABC variety series, Dolly. The country music icon paid a visit to Pee-wee’s Playhouse to sing the Hank Williams classic, “Hey Good Lookin’,” with the quirky character. That’s TV magic.

10. First in Class: Dolly Joins the Country Music Hall of Fame

Dolly Parton has earned 11 Grammy Awards, 10 Country Music Association Awards, and 13 Academy of Country Music Awards. In 1999, Dolly was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—both as a solo artist and as a member of Trio with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. She is a recipient of the BMI Icon Award, Library of Congress Living Legend Award, and the National Medal of Arts. Dolly is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Music City Walk of Fame.

Simply put: Legend.

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