10 Badass Dolly Parton Moments

dolly-partonIs Dolly Parton a “Badass”? You bet she is. And for her birthday (Jan. 19th), let’s articulate 10 reasons (actually twelve) why the the platinum blonde buxom country music legend still kicking ass at age 68 should be considered a badass by everyone.

And by the way, yes I know the term “badass” may seem a little strange to reference Dolly Parton with, but this whole thing started with a “10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments” over a year ago, and we’re not changing the theme now. So here we go!

More in this series:


1. Being Delivered for a Bag of Oatmeal

dolly-parton-tennessee-mountain-homeNow if that ain’t country….

Dolly Rebecca Parton was delivered on January 19th, 1946 as the fourth of what would eventually be twelve children between her father Robert Lee Parton and mother Avie Lee. Dolly’s father was a dirt poor tobacco farmer and the family lived in a tiny one room cabin on Locust Ridge in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Dolly’s grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher, and she started singing in church at a young age. She received her first guitar at age eight and began performing at local radio stations by age ten. The family was so poor, it’s said they paid off the doc who delivered Dolly with a bag of oatmeal. The music that surrounded Dolly during her early childhood and the poorness her family felt would influence her music greatly throughout her career. A “Coat of Many Colors” indeed.


2. Making Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mule Skinner Blues” Her First Major Hit

Just appreciate this for a second. Dolly Parton, who some when you say the name envision the busty platinum blonde playing roles in major Hollywood productions, or sharing the stage with Kenny Rogers singing crossover hits like “Islands In The Stream,” had her first major country music hit with a song written in 1930 and originally recorded by Ralph Peer from the Father of Country Music, The Singin’ Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers. Oh, and Dolly’s version is completely badass in and of itself.

It was 1970, and Dolly Parton was a part of the Porter Wagoner empire, and Porter owned part of Dolly’s publishing and she performed on his show as a regular. But frustration was beginning to set in for Porter because Dolly had yet to record a true hit since joining him in 1967. So as a gimmick as much as anything to land Dolly some attention, they decided to record a version of Jimmie’s “Mule Skinner Blues.” Lo and behold, it became a hit, hitting #3 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.

Even though having a woman singing the primitive country song seemed strange in so many ways, the composition was actually the perfect showcase of Dolly’s talents. Her towering voice, her timeless yodel, and the sound she’d been baptized with growing up in the Great Smokey Mountains all lent to one amazing rendition of the song that still holds up today. Dolly’s “Mule Skinner Blues” still might be one of the most death-defying vocals performances in the history of country music. If it doesn’t get you breaking out in shivers, not much will.


3. Penning & Performing the Ultimate Tribute to Porter Wagoner

There are songs, and then there are songs that shape the entire landscape of American music after they’re released. “I Will Always Love You” written and released by Dolly Parton in 1974 is one of those songs.

In 1967, country star Porter Wagoner took Dolly Parton under his wing as a pupil and the primary backup singer for him in concert and on his popular weekly syndicated television program The Porter Wagoner Show. Joining Wagoner’s operation was one of the keys to Parton’s early success, putting her into the spotlight, and making her a big star. But by 1974, it was time for Dolly Parton to go—a decision that was quite unpopular with Porter. Dolly, truly not wanting to hurt Porter’s feelings, penned the song for her long-time mentor, and sang it for him in tribute. Unfortunately, it didn’t help stave off the behind-the-scenes drama about to ensue about the business aspects of Dolly’s career, but the authentic sentiment captured in the composition made it an instant hit nonetheless.

Now “I Will Always Love You” is one of the best-selling singles of all time, and is popular all across the world. Dolly re-recorded the song in 1982 to appear on the soundtrack of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and then when Whitney Houston recorded the song in 1992 for The Bodyguard soundtrack, it became an international hit for a new generation. When Whitney Houston unexpectedly died in 2012, the song appeared on the charts again as Whitney’s most-recognized recording.

“I Will Always Love You” is now the 6th best-selling music single of all time, only being beat out by songs like Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and “Silent Night,” Billy Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock,” and “We Are The World.”


4. Composing Over 3,000 Songs

Just think about that for a minute. For a woman known for so many different accomplishments, she has put pen to paper on original compositions over 3,000 documented times in her career. And we’re not talking about throwaway cannon fodder album cuts. Included in those 3,000 are some of the most legendary compositions from the Americana songbook, country and otherwise. “I Will Always Love You” made it to the top of the country charts twice, and was a major world hit for Whitney Houston. “Jolene” might be one of the most-recognized songs about jealousy in history. “Coat of Many Colors,” “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” “9 to 5,” and so on and so forth. For all the glitz and show, Dolly Parton the songwriter might end up being her most lasting contribution to the culture of America and the world.


5. Sticking to Her Guns to Keep Steel Guitar in “Here You Come Again”

Here_You_Come_Again_(song)_coverIt was 1977, and Dolly Parton had already proven herself to be a huge success in country music. So the powers that be saw that with a pretty face, a famous figure, and one of the most powerful voices in all of American music at the time, Dolly could cash in on all of these assets and release a blockbuster pop record.

Though Dolly was quite famous for writing her own songs (see above), “Here You Come Again” written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil was chosen to be Dolly’s first smash pop crossover single. It was originally offered to one of Dolly’s female country predecessors in Brenda Lee, but Brenda turned the song down. So Dolly picked it up, and her producer Garry Klein was put in responsibility for the recording.

When the song, and Dolly’s crossover album of the same name came out, some country critics and fans boo hooed that their favorite singer from the Tennessee Smoky Mountains had gone pop, but according to producer Garry Klein, nobody was more eaten up by this decision than Dolly Parton herself, and she was determined to do something about it.

When “Here You Come Again” was done initially, there was nothing even remotely country about it aside from Dolly Parton’s participation. So Dolly begged Garry Kelin to put a steel guitar in the session. “She wanted people to be able to hear the steel guitar, so if someone said it isn’t country, she could say it and prove it,” Klein said to Tom Roland in a 1991 book about Billboard hits. “She was so relieved. It was like her life sentence was reprieved.”

Dolly Parton would go on to be very successful in pop music, but would never wear it as a stain like so many other country stars because Dolly made sure the music was always still of substance, and still paid homage to her country roots in a some way. And soon enough, Parton was back in Nashville cutting some of the most traditional country records in the business, including landmark bluegrass and Gospel projects, and writing most of her biggest songs once again.

“Here You Come Again” reached #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart and has since become a standard in both pop and country, having been covered dozens of times by other artists.


6. Having One Of The Most Successful Movie Careers in Country Music

Many country music artists have dabbled in work on the Silver Screen, including Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson who were once in as high demand as actors as they were singers and songwriters. But Dolly Parton may have found more success in Hollywood than anyone in the country music business. Her work on 9 to 5, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, to later in the 80’s in Steel Magnolias, all the way up to modern day movies like Joyful Noise, there are many Americans who think of Dolly Parton as an actor first, and then a musician. Though Dolly’s acting may be defined more by an era in the 80’s, her contributions were solid and successful, resulting in five Golden Globe nominations, including for acting roles, not just music, and two nominations from the Academy Awards for original songs.

Dolly Parton has also appeared in numerous television shows over the years.


7. Owning Her Own Theme Park

Yeah, remember how jealous you were when one of your friends had an arcade game in their home, or a jungle gym in their back yard, or were the first on your block with a game system? Well Dolly Parton has them all beat as the namesake of the biggest theme park and tourist attraction in Tennessee, and one of the most popular theme parks in the entire United States.

dollywood-mapServing more than 3 million guests annually, Dollywood started out as a small, Civil War-themed roadside attraction with a train, saloon, and other small features. Tourists could ride the train and be attacked by reenacting Union Soldiers. Slowly the theme park morphed into bigger and bigger incarnations, being called “Goldrush Junction” and “Silver Dollar City” until 1986 when Dolly Parton became the co-owner of the park and re-named it “Dollywood.” After Dolly came on as an owner, the park doubled in size, stretching out now to 150 acres, including a 35-acre “Splash Country” water park.

Dollywood isn’t just all about rides though. The park houses traditional country crafts and music indicative of the Great Smoky Mountains, and numerous concerts and music events transpire at the park throughout the year. The grounds also serve as the home of the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.

And Dollywood is award winning. It was named the Liseberg Applause Award Winner for 2010—the most prestigious award for an amusement park.

Dolly Parton and Dollywood have also continued to add new attractions every year. In 2013 she announced the Dollywood DreamMore Resort. Announced in 2012, Dolly was also going to be partner with Gaylord Entertainment on a theme park in Nashville right near the Grand Ole Opry that would be a combination water and snow park. But plans for the park fell through.


8. Garnering Critical Acclaim with Trio

trio-albumBy 1987, Dolly Parton had done it all. She’d been a successful singer, songwriter, actor, was known for her bluegrass and Gospel, her pop and country, but critical acclaim was not necessarily something you would associate with Dolly’s career. Not that she didn’t find critical success throughout her stint in various disciplines, but she decided to do something to show critics her more creative side. So she teamed up with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt and released Trio—arguably Dolly’s most critical work to date. Both traditional and progressive, the three part harmonies of the singing sirens won over audiences and critics alike, and awarded the trio two Grammy Awards. The project was also a commercial success, with multiple successful singles. Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou also released a second installment Trio II in 1999.


9. Forming The “Imagination Library

A towering advocate for literacy, and originally from an area where such advocacy is most needed, Dolly’s Imagination Library has earned her high praise from educational and governmental sectors. The foundation distributes more than 8.3 million free books to children across multiple countries annually. Imagination Library mails one book per month to each enrolled child from the time of their birth until they enter kindergarten. Over 1600 communities provide the service to almost 700,000 children every month.

Dolly Parton’s work to increase childhood literacy earned her the Good Housekeeping “Seal of Approval” in 2001. It was the first time this seal had been given to a human.


10. Being Willing to Make Fun of Herself

Self-awareness is what has made one of country music’s most caricaturistic individuals into one of the most well-loved and universally-appreciated iconic characters of all time. From the beginning when Dolly Parton would dress like a “Lady of the Night,” she knew and joked herself about her appearance. Her breasts have been a constant point of comedy for her over the years, and so has her perpetual rounds of plastic surgery.

Some of her most famous quotes are, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” and “If I see something sagging, bagging, and dragging, I’m going to nip it, suck it and tuck it.”


BONUS 11. Having A Record 42 Top 10 Country Albums (and counting…)

Forget all of Dolly’s amazing contributions and how they’ve impacted so many country music listener’s lives for a moment, and just appreciate the statistics this woman who was raised in a one room shack in the mountains has racked up in her life.

  • 25 #1 Songs on the Billboard Country Charts
  • 110 Charted Billboard Singles
  • Over 100 Million Dgital Downloads Worldwide
  • 10 CMA Awards
  • 2 Academy Award Nominations
  • Member of 14 Halls of Fame
  • 8 Grammy Awards
  • And Dolly is tied with Beyoncé as the most nominated female in Grammy Awards history with 46.

But the most dramatic stat might be that Dolly Parton is the country music artist with the most Top 10 albums on Billboard in the history of country music with a whopping 42. Not Willie Nelson, not Johnny Cash, not Garth Brooks or anyone else come close to the achievement, and Dolly has done it with only releasing 49 albums total, meaning her albums are more successful than most from her era. And even more striking is that Dolly Parton is still counting. Her 2014 release Blue Smoke not only marked her 42nd Top 10 album, it was her most successful album on the all genre Billboard 200 ever, coming in at #6. Dolly has also had six #1 albums in her career.


BONUS 12. Staying Herself

Just about everything you see when you look at Dolly Parton these days is fake. Her hair is fake, her lashes and nails are fake, her boobs are fake, and she’s had as much plastic surgery as anyone. But deep down in Dolly, her heart remains the same one as the little girl who grew up in a one room cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains.

She attributes staying herself throughout her career to a talk she had with Johnny Cash when she first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. Cash told the young singer to always follow her instincts, which she’s adhered to throughout her career.


More in this series: