From the soft, lilting notes of “I Will Always Love You” to the rolling pop of “Rainbowland” Dolly Parton has delighted audiences for countless generations and kept her name in the zeitgeist of popular culture for over six decades. Her singular voice and iconic look have bolstered her to the top of the country genre for fans and abstainers alike.
Parton has amassed countless iconic moments across her sprawling career. We’re here to walk you through a few of them, giving a glimpse into Parton’s unparalleled time in the spotlight.
1. Parton Plays the Grand Ole Opry at Just 13 Years Old
Parton has said it was always her dream to perform at the Opry. “For me, the Opry is like the song ‘New York, New York’—if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” she once said.
She made that dream a reality at just 13 years old—with an introduction from Johnny Cash no less! A young Dolly sang George Jones’ “You Gotta Be My Baby” with three crowd-insisted encores. Though there is no video of her inaugural performance, Dolly spent a long time on the Opry stage.
2. Parton Joins the Porter Wagoner Show
Parton began to garner some fame after she released her debut album Hello, I’m Dolly in 1967. Her lilting vocals and bold look caught the ear and eye of country icon Porter Wagoner soon after. Her efforts earned her a regular spot on Wagoner’s variety show by the end of the year.
In her first year on the show, Parton and Wagoner teamed up for a version of “The Last Thing on My Mind” which quickly rose to the No. 7 spot on the billboard country charts. The duo became a regular outfit in the country ranks releasing a sprawling 13 albums together.
3. Parton releases “Jolene”
“Jolene” is one of those songs that anyone would know from the first few seconds of guitar trill. Whether country music is your thing or not, “Jolene” has made its way into your rotation one or two times.
Parton released the wistful track in 1974 as the title track to her 13th album. The song went on to find major success in the country charts, clinching the number one spot. The song is still synonymous with Parton’s name and has gone on to be one of her most iconic tracks.
4. Parton Sings “I Will Always Love You” to Porter Wagoner
Though Parton and Wagoner had a great thing going for 7 years, in 1973 the Tennessee songstress began to feel she needed to break away from the Wagoner name. Wagoner however wanted to continue releasing music together causing a rift in their partnership.
As Parton got ready to leave the show, she left Wagoner with one final goodbye in the best way she knew how—in a song. Parton penned arguably her most famous track “I Will Always Love You” as an ode to the duo parting ways.
5. Parton Stars in 9 to 5
Dolly Parton made her silver screen debut in 1980 with her role in 9 to 5 alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Together the three working women live out their fantasies of getting even with the company’s “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss.
Parton also contributed the title track for the film with the song soaring to the top of the charts and clinching a slew of award nominations.
6. Parton Becomes Part of the Trio
In 1987, three of country music’s greatest contemporary artists joined forces to form a classic country three-piece. Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt had each forged a career of hit singles, sold-out world tours, and classic albums by the time they decided to get together to record Trio.
Though the three artists shared a love of country music, each singer had a distinct voice that perfectly played off one another creating an album for the ages.
7. Parton Opens Dollywood
Parton is an artist known for her generosity, most notably her theme park, Dollywood, which she built in Pigeon Forge, Tennesee near her hometown. As the park marked its 25th season, Parton told the Associated Press that she always intended on returning home and helping better the lives of everyone who supported her as a burgeoning musician.
“I always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area,” Parton said. “Sure enough, I was lucky, and God was good to me. We started the park, and 25 years later, we’re still at it.”
8. Parton is Inducted Into the Songwriters Hall of Fame
As Parton once said, “anybody can sing, but not everybody can write.” Her unparalleled songwriting earned her entry into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2001.
Her artist page cites that she was “the first female country artist to record two [No. 1] pop singles (both self-penned), and the first to be nominated for an Academy Award. She was the first female songwriter to win BMI’s Five-Million Air award, given for 5 million radio performances of ‘I Will Always Love You.'”
9. Parton Joins Miley Cyrus for “Rainbowland”
Parton and Miley Cyrus got to play out their real-life Godmother/God daughter relationship across Hannah Montana’s lengthy run on Disney Channel. After having a close relationship with Billy Ray Cyrus, she earned the Godmother status soon after Miley was born.
The duo showcased their lasting relationship on Cyrus’ country-fuelled album, Younger Now, in 2017. The pair joined forces for a rolling country-pop number “Rainbowland” wherein they sing about acceptance and love—adding another credit to the list of the moments that make Parton an icon for any generation.
10. Parton Nominated For Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022
When Parton was first announced as part of the class of 2022, she turned down the honor feeling she hadn’t “earned that right” yet. “I really do not want votes to be split because of me, so I must respectfully bow out,” she said.
Fans were quick to tell the country icon that she more than deserved the induction, eventually convincing Parton to stay in the ranks of this year’s inductees alongside Pat Benatar, Duran Duran, Eminem, Eurythmics, Lionel Richie, and Carly Simon.
“Of course, I will accept it gracefully,” she said. “Thanks to everyone that voted for me and to everyone at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I will continue to work hard and try to live up to the honor.”
(Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)