7 Lessons From Dolly Parton, a Certified Living Legend and Pop Culture Icon



There are few people as exuberantly themselves as Dolly Parton. Since her debut album, the straightforwardly titled Hello, I’m Dolly, came out in 1967, Parton’s music career has been a marvel.

Twenty-five of her songs hit number one on the Billboard country music charts and she’s made 41 albums that have ranked in the top 10. She’s been nominated a total of 47 times for Grammy Awards — and took home nine. Parton’s also been nominated for two Academy Awards and is one of seven women to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award.

Parton, who has been a pop culture patron saint of working women since she starred in the 1980 hit film 9 to 5, is also passionate about philanthropy. Last year, she was the recipient of the Academy of Country Music’s Gary Haber Lifting Lives award for her lifelong charitable work with the Dollywood Foundation, which raised $12 million for those affected by 2016 wildfires in her home state of Tennessee.

On the country music icon’s 72nd birthday, read on for seven lessons about how to make the most your opportunities.

Start early.

Parton started performing when she was a young girl, making her debut at the famed Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 1959 when was 13 years old. She played with her uncle Bill Owens and was introduced by another musical legend, the man in black himself, Johnny Cash. She got three encores for that performance — not bad for the first time out.

Celebrate your roots.

The Dollywood theme park has been operating in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., since 1961. There is even a replica of the cabin that she and her siblings grew up in there. As of 2015, Parton’s properties, including Dollywood, Dollywood’s Splash Country, Dollywood Smoky Mountain Cabins and the Dixie Stampede dinner theater, collectively had a staff of 3,000.

Give back.

In 1995, she launched the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in her hometown of Servier, Tenn., an organization that mails kids free books from the day they are born until they start school. More than 20 years later, the Imagination Library has gone international to Canada, the U.K. and Australia, and as of 2016, the organization was sending 1 million books every month.


Over the course of her career, Parton has recorded two massively successful albums with other leading ladies of country music. In 1987, she made Trio with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. In 1993, she released Honky Tonk Angels with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.

Know your worth.

Parton is responsible for giving the world a little song you might have heard of called “I Will Always Love You,” and as befitting the hit, she’s been rightfully protective of it. Of course, Whitney Houston’s rendition was a smash hit, but it was almost recorded by Elvis Presley. Presley was interested, but his manager Colonel Tom Parker told Parton that they only had a deal if she gave them half the publishing rights — but she held firm and said no.

Do what you love.

“I will never retire unless I had to,” Parton said in an interview with ABC in 2012. “As long as I’m able to get up in the morning, get that makeup on, get those high heels on. Even if I can’t wear the high heels, if I’m not able to wear ’em, I’m going to do like Mae West and sit in a wheelchair with my high heels on and have somebody wheel me around.”

Be iconic.

Parton actually has the title to prove it. The Library of Congress made her a Living Legend honoree in 2004, joining the ranks of such distinguished individuals as Gloria Steinem, Sally Ride, Toni Morrison and Julia Child. In 2006, she was the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor award and in 2011, she was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the music industry.


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