Origins: Locust Ridge, Tennessee, United States of America
Years Active: 1950–2020
It's difficult to find a country performer who has moved from her country roots to international fame more successfully than Dolly Parton. Her autobiographical single "Coat of Many Colors" shows the poverty of growing up one of 12 children on a rundown farm in Locust Ridge, Tennessee. At 12 years old, she was appearing on Knoxville television; at 13 she was recording on a small label and appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. Her 1967 hit "Dumb Blonde" (which she's not) caught Porter Wagoner's ear, and he hired Parton to appear on his television show, where their duet numbers became famous. By the time her "Joshua" reached number one in 1970, Parton's fame had overshadowed her boss' and she struck out on her own, though she still recorded duets with him. During the mid-'70s, she established herself as a country superstar, and crossed over into the pop mainstream in the early '80s when she smoothed out the rough edges in her music and began singing pop as well as country.
At the same time, she also began appearing in movies, most notably the hit 9 to 5. Though her savvy marketing, image manipulation (her big dumb blond stage persona is an act), extracurricular forays into film, and flirtations with country-pop have occasionally overshadowed her music, at her core Parton is a country gal and a tremendously gifted singer/songwriter. Among her classics are "Coat of Many Colors," "Jolene," "Kentucky Gambler," "I Will Always Love You," "But You Know I Love You," and "Tennessee Homesick Blues," and they give a hint as to why her contribution to bringing country music to a wide audience, not only in America but throughout the world, cannot be overestimated.
However, by 1985 many old-time fans had felt that Parton was spending too much time courting the mainstream. Most of her albums were dominated by the adult contemporary pop of songs like "Islands in the Stream," and it had been years since she had sung straightforward country. She also continued to explore new business and entertainment ventures such as her Dollywood theme park, which opened in 1985. Despite these misgivings, she had continued to chart well until 1986, when none of her singles reached the Top Ten. RCA Records didn't renew her contract after it expired that year, and she signed with Columbia in 1987.
In 2015, Parton's classic song "Coat of Many Colors" was adapted into a made-for-TV movie, which featured Alyvia Alyn Lind as the young Dolly Parton and Jennifer Nettles (from the group Sugarland) as her mother. Parton was a producer on the film, which became a major success in the ratings, and a Christmas-themed sequel was put into production for the 2016 holiday season. In the summer of 2016, Parton announced that she was headlining a 60-date North American concert tour, her most extensive run of shows in 25 years. The jaunt was being billed as the Pure & Simple Tour, and not coincidentally, Parton also revealed she was releasing a new album in August 2016, a set of ten original love songs also called Pure & Simple. In October 2017, Parton released her first children's album, I Believe in You; the album debuted at 20 on Billboard's Country charts. A year later, Parton returned with the soundtrack to Dumplin', a comedy where Parton's music plays a pivotal role. On the soundtrack, Parton collaborated with Linda Perry on three songs, while duetting with Sia, Elle King, Mavis Staples, and Miranda Lambert on new tunes and a handful of her classics.