Then & Now: Dolly Parton’s Journey from Small Town Tennessee to Country Legend

Folks seem to be ever-curious about Dolly Parton‘s age. Perhaps it’s because it seems impossible to have accomplished all that she has in one lifetime. Or perhaps it’s because fans want to know precisely how long her career spans. Either way, one thing is certain: Parton’s career contains enough highlights to fill volumes.

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But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to talk about the two extremes of Parton’s career: the beginning and now. The young Dolly Parton and the veteran performer. Looking at both will help shine a light on the magnitude of the singer’s career.

A Young Dolly Parton

As you may or may not know, Dolly Parton was a songwriter before she could even read or write. In 1951, at just 5 years old, Parton composed her first-ever song. Parton’s mother, Avie Lee, ended up writing down the lyrics for the young Dolly Parton. Thanks to her mother’s devotion, this early song survived and the documentation of Parton’s career goes back to the very beginning. This song was titled “Little Tiny Tasseltop,” and it was inspired by a doll that Parton had at the time.

Check out Dolly Parton’s first song HERE.

Six years later, and now able to fulfill the writer portion of songwriter, Parton recorded her first single titled “Puppy Love.” Then in 1959, Parton officially dropped the song as her first recorded single via Goldband Records. She was 13 years old.

“I remember the first time I heard myself on the radio,” Parton said in her 2020 book, Songteller. “I about killed myself. I was sitting up on the counter, and the radio was on. I jumped off the counter and slid and fell trying to get to the radio to turn it up.”

Safe to say, and in no hyperbolic tone, Parton was born to be a singer/songwriter.

Hello, I’m Dolly

Parton’s first real introduction to the music world was through her debut studio album, Hello, I’m Dolly. The album, released in 1967, is a tried and true country record with her first two top 40 hits “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy.” The album itself reached number 11 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart.

Each song on this record showcases not only Parton’s East Tenessee roots—she co-wrote several of these songs with her uncle Bill Owens—but her character is conveyed in each lyric. Parton’s quick wit and sonic self-awareness carried the record all the way into the hearts of country music fans.

Dolly Parton the Experienced Musician

Now, at 76 years old, there is little that Parton hasn’t done.

She’s composed over 3,000 songs, earned 11 Grammy Awards, and been inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Outside of music, she’s opened up her own amusement park and dinner theatre (Dollywood and The Dolly Parton Stampede, respectively), and pursued philanthropic ventures like her Imagination Library. (The list of accolades and accomplishments, again, could go on for volumes but we’ll stop there. For now.)

But what has all of this amounted to? What does Parton think when she reflects on her career?

She knows that she’s not done yet.

“I can’t stop now,” Parton said in a 2021 interview. “I’ve learned you can’t just say, ‘Oh, my dream’s come true and I’m walking out of here.’ No, you’ve got to show you’re grateful and show that you’re not going to just leave it all in the hands of other people.”

She added, “I’m kind of addicted to the feeling of giving. Knowing that I’m doing something good for someone else.”

Here’s to many more years with Ms. Dolly.

Photo Courtesy of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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