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Dolly Rebecca Parton was born on January 19, 1946 in Pittmann Center, Tennessee. She was the fourth of 12 children born to Avie Lee and Lee Parton, a sharecropper who later ran his own tobacco farm and supported the family with farm income supplemented by construction jobs. Her family had very little money – in her words they were “filthy poor” – and this, coupled with the fact that her father Lee was illiterate, greatly influenced the course of Dolly’s book life. Her maternal grandfather was a pastor in the Church of God, which her family attended, and her faith had an even greater impact on her life.
Dolly grew up surrounded by music and believed that even though they had no money, they couldn’t be poor when they had so much love. She wrote her song “Coat of Many Colors” about exactly this feeling and told the story of the coat her mother sewed for her from rags. Years later, Brooke Boynton Hughes illustrated the lyrics as a lovely picture book Coat of many colors.
Sometime between writing the song and completing a book, Dolly became wealthy, in no small part due to her own business acumen, not only as a performer but also as a songwriter. When she wrote “I Will Always Love You” (about Porter Wagoner, who helped launch her career), Elvis Presley wanted to sing it; Colonel Tom Parker told Dolly that she had to sign over 50% of the rights to the song, and she declined — and has made millions of dollars in royalties from that song alone, not to mention many others. (Her current fortune is estimated at half a billion dollars.)
Never forgetting her roots, Dolly founded Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in 2005. Established in honor of her father, the library sends free books to all children under the age of 5 each month, first in her home county of Sevier County, Tennessee, and expanding nationwide in 2000. The program is now international, also serving Canada, the UK, Ireland and Australia. As of May 2022, the Imagination Library distributed 2,023,258 books, bringing the total over the past 27 years to 182,571,673 (and counting)! Just four years ago, in 2018, the Library of Congress honored Dolly for the 100 millionth book donated.
Dolly’s other philanthropic endeavors through her Dollywood Foundation, which manages the Imagination Library, are mostly related to healthcare, with some emphasis on animals. She has donated and raised money to build a hospital in her home country, to support HIV/AIDS treatment and research, and pediatric cancer research, not to mention raising $1 million for the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. She has lent her music to PETA campaigns and has partnered with the Bald Eagle Foundation to establish a sanctuary at Dollywood, their Tennessee theme park, to preserve our national bird. And after the 2016 Smoky Mountain wildfires, she participated in two telethons to raise money, giving each affected family $1,000 a month for six months, with a $5,000 gift at the end for a total of $10,000 , to help them get back on their feet.
Apparently believing that any old man could be the greatest country star alive and one of the most generous people alive (nobody’s forcing me to say that), Dolly also acts and writes. Although her film roles have not been particularly literal, some are based on plays, including Steel magnolias. She also contributed new songs to the 2018 film adaptation dumplings by Julie Murphy, in which the main character is a big Dolly Parton fan.
your books are Just the Way I Am: Poetic Selections on “Reasons to Live, Reasons to Love and Reasons to Smile” from the Songs by Dolly Parton, My life and other unfinished business, Coat of many colorsDolly’s Dixie Fixin’s: love, laughter and lots of good food, i am a rainbow, Dream more: celebrate the dreamer in you, Songteller: My life in lyricsand Run, Rose, runa thriller co-written with James Patterson.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough, Dolly is a staunch ally of LGBTQ+ people. Dolly Parton, salute you and your book life! We know that this dumb blonde is not fooled by anyone.