I Will Always Love You
January 19, 2021
Hers is a household name. Superficially, she is known for her over the top persona as a country music performer and icon. There is, however, a reason for her successful career which has now spanned 60 years. Long before Madonna or Lady Gaga invented their outrageous selves, we had Dolly Parton, a true original.
Today, January 19, 2021, marks the singer/songwriter’s 75th birthday.
It’s been a remarkable career. Especially for a woman born in a one room cabin in east Tennessee. The family was beyond broke but it was, perhaps, that beginning which helped to galvanize Parton’s will. We turn to the Infallible Wikipedia for the background:
“Parton has described her family as being ‘dirt poor.’ Parton’s father paid the doctor who helped deliver her with a bag of cornmeal. She outlined her family’s poverty in her early songs ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and ‘In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)’. For approximately 6 to 7 years, Parton and her family lived in a rustic, one-bedroom cabin on a small subsistence farm on Locust Ridge. This was a predominately Pentecostal area located north of the Greenbrier Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains. Music played an important role in her early life. She was brought up in the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), in a congregation her grandfather, Jake Robert Owens, pastored. Her earliest public performances were in the church, beginning at age six. At seven, she started playing a homemade guitar. When she was eight, her uncle bought her first real guitar.
Parton began performing as a child, singing on local radio and television programs in the East Tennessee area.] By ten, she was appearing on The Cas Walker Show on both WIVK Radio and WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee. At 13, she was recording (the single ‘Puppy Love’) on a small Louisiana label, Goldband Records, and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, where she first met Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to follow her own instincts regarding her career.”
Unless you were a fan of country music you likely had never heard of Parton until the 1970’s or 1980’s. It was in these two decades that her career crossed over into the Top 40 charts; she was also cast in several movies and featured on variety music shows with such stars as Cher and Carol Burnett.
Parton has won two Academy Awards, seven Grammys, 11 Country Music Association awards, and five Golden Globes. In her career, she has sold over 100 million records.
In my mind, however, it is her songwriting which will be her most enduring legacy. I would argue that she’s been, perhaps, the most prolific and successful songwriter of the 20th century.
During an interview on Larry King Live in March 2009, she answered his question about how many songs she’d written this way:
“Well, you know, I don’t count them, Larry. But I’ve been writing since I was a little bitty girl. I was probably 7 years old when I started playing the guitar and writing some serious songs. So, I know that I have at least 3,000 songs that I have written. I’ve got songs in boxes, drawers, stuff I carried from home when I left, that I still haven’t gotten through. And I write something almost every day, least an idea down. But that’s not to say they’re all good, but that’s what I do and it’s what I love to do.”
I understand how powerful the impetus to write is for a person. One’s brain is constantly tumbling new ideas and thinking ‘what if.’
Songwriting, however, is a completely different world and one which inspires awe, at least for me. For some songwriters, they hear the music and can create that alone. For others, they work with composers to make a marriage of their poetic words with someone else’s music. And then there are those, like Dolly Parton, who do both things. It’s a rare talent.
Over 3,000 songs – that was in 2009 – and she is still writing them. Amazing.
When the hubby, my son and daughter, and I visited Nashville in 2013, we toured the Country Music Hall of Fame (CMHF); A truly fascinating place which pays tribute to the biggest stars of the genre.
My favorite section in the building turned out to be an interactive display which featured five Country Music songwriters including, of course, Dolly Parton. The rest of the visitors, as well as my own family, melted into the background as I really began to understand and appreciate Parton’s amazing contribution to the American experience.
It was there – still reading about Parton – that the family found me quite some time later and pretty much had to force me to leave to go get lunch.
The fact that I never got through the entire display just gives me an excuse to return to Nashville so I can read the rest of what I missed. Next time I’ll head straight to that section of the CMHF. And, as long as I’m in Tennessee, I think continuing east for a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains and Dollywood might also be in order. Sounds like a great roadtrip!
The exhaustive article from the Infallible Wikipedia is found here:
A list of songs she’s written which have been published: https://www.azlyrics.com/d/dollyparton.html