She is known for her distinctive mountain soprano, sometimes bawdy humor, flamboyant dress sense and voluptuous figure.
Her family was, as she described them, "dirt poor. They lived in a rustic, dilapidated one-room cabin in Locust Ridge, a hamlet just north of Greenbrier in the Great Smoky Mountains of Sevier County, Tennessee. Parton's parents were parishioners in the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), a Pentecostal denomination, and music was a very large part of her church experience. She once told an interviewer that her grandfather was a Pentecostal "holy roller" preacher. Today, when appearing in live concerts, she frequently performs spiritual songs. (Parton, however, professes no denomination, claiming only to be "spiritual" while adding that she believes that all the Earth's people are God's children.)
On May 30, 1966, at the age of 20, she married Carl Dean in Ringgold, Georgia. She met Dean on her first day in Nashville, at age 18, at the Wishy-Washy Laundromat. His very first words to her were: "You're gonna get sunburnt out there, little lady. Dean, who runs an asphalt-paving business in Nashville, has always shunned publicity and rarely accompanies her to any events. The couple has raised several of Dolly's younger siblings at their home in Nashville, leading her nieces and nephews to refer to her as "Aunt Granny." Dean and Parton have no children together.
Parton's initial success came as a songwriter, writing hit songs for Hank Williams, Jr. and Skeeter Davis. She signed with Monument Records in late 1965, where she was initially pitched as a bubblegum pop singer, earning only one national chart single, "Happy, Happy Birthday Baby," which did not crack the Billboard Hot 100.
The label agreed to have Parton sing country music after her composition, "Put It Off Until Tomorrow," as recorded by Bill Phillips (and with Parton, uncredited, on harmony), went to No. 6 on the Country Charts in 1966. Her first country single, "Dumb Blonde" (one of the few songs during this era that she recorded but didn't write), reached No. 24 on the country charts in 1967, followed the same year with "Something Fishy," which went to Number 17. The two songs anchored her first full-length album, "Hello, I'm Dolly"
Initially, Wagoner's audience was reluctant to warm to Parton and chanted for Norma Jean, but with Wagoner's assistance, she was accepted. Wagoner convinced his label, RCA, to also sign Parton. Since female performers were not particularly popular in the late '60s, the label decided to protect their investment by releasing her first single as a duet with Wagoner. The duo's first single, "The Last Thing on My Mind," reached the country Top Ten early in 1968, launching a six-year streak of virtually uninterrupted Top Ten singles.
Parton's first solo single, "Just Because I'm a Woman," was released in the summer of 1968 and was a moderate hit, reaching number 17. For the remainder of the decade, none of her solo efforts — even "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)," which would later become a standard — were as successful as her duets. The duo was named Vocal Group of the Year in 1968 by the Country Music Association, but Parton's solo records were continually ignored. Wagoner and Parton were both frustrated by her lack of solo success, because he had a significant financial stake in her future — as of 1969, he was her co-producer and owned nearly half of the publishing company Owepar.
By 1970, both Parton and Wagoner had grown frustrated by her lack of solo success, and Porter had her sing Jimmie Rodgers' "Mule Skinner Blues," a gimmick that worked. The record shot to number three on the charts, followed closely by her first number one single, "Joshua." For the next two years, she had a number of solo hits — including her signature song "Coat of Many Colors" (number four, 1971) — in addition to her duets. Though she had successful singles, none of them were blockbusters until "Jolene" reached number one in early 1974. Parton stopped traveling with Wagoner after its release, yet she continued to appear on television and sing duets with him until 1976. .
She stayed with the Wagoner show and continued to record duets with him for seven years, then made a break to become a solo artist. In 1974, her song, "I Will Always Love You" (written about her break from Wagoner), was released and went to #1 on the country charts. Around the same time, Elvis Presley indicated that he wanted to cover the song. Parton was interested until Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told her that she would have to sign over half of the publishing rights if Presley recorded the song (as was the standard procedure for songs he recorded). . Parton refused and that decision is credited with helping make her many millions of dollars in royalties from the song over the years. It was decisions like these, in fact, that caused her to be called "The Iron Butterfly" in showbiz circles. She also claims to have made enough from Whitney Houston's cover version of this song to "buy Graceland."
Parton later had commercial success as a pop singer, as well as an actress. Her 1977 album, Here You Come Again, was her first million-seller, and the title track ("Here You Come Again") became her first top-ten single on the pop charts (reaching No. 3); many of her subsequent singles charted on both pop and country charts, simultaneously. Her albums during this period were developed specifically for pop/crossover success. With less time to spend on her songwriting as she focused on a burgeoning film career, the early 1980s found Parton recording a larger percentage of material from noted pop songwriters, such as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Rupert Holmes, Gary Portnoy, and Carole Bayer Sager. In 1978, Parton won the Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her Here You Come Again album. Following "Here You Come Again", she had further pop hits with "Two Doors Down", "Heartbreaker" (both 1978), "Baby I'm Burning" and "You're The Only One" (both 1979), all of which charted in the pop singles top 40, and all of which also topped the country singles chart. On April 3rd, 1978 Dolly Parton performed on Cher... Special in the "Musical Battle to Save Cher's Soul Medley." Parton was dressed in white and, with a team of brightly clad singers, portrayed an angelic host while punk band The Tubes, dressed in black leather and performing "Mondo Bondage," battled to send Cher's soul into eternal damnation.
Parton's commercial success continued to grow during 1980, with three number one hits in a row: the Donna Summer-written "Starting Over Again," "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You", and "9 to 5." "9 to 5", the theme song to the 1980 movie Parton starred in along with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, not only reached No. 1 on the Country charts, but also No. 1 on the Pop and the Adult Contemporary charts, giving her a triple No. 1 hit. Parton became one of the few female Country singers to have a No. 1 single on the Country and Pop charts simultaneously.
Parton's singles continued to appear consistently in the country Top Ten: between 1981 and 1985, she had 12 Top Ten hits; half of those were number one singles. Parton continued to make inroads on the pop charts as well with a re-recorded version of "I Will Always Love You" from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas scraping the Top 50 in 1982, and her Kenny Rogers duet "Islands in the Stream" (which was written by the Bee Gees and produced by Barry Gibb) spending two weeks at number one in 1983.
However, by 1985 many old-time fans had felt that Parton was spending too much time courting the mainstream. Most of her albums were dominated by the adult contemporary pop of songs like "Islands in the Stream," and it had been years since she had sung straightforward country. She also continued to explore new business and entertainment ventures such as her Dollywood theme park, which opened in 1986. Her sales were still relatively strong, however, with "Save the Last Dance for Me", "Tennessee Homesick Blues" (both 1984), "Don't Call it Love Love", "Real Love (a 1985 duet with Kenny Rogers), and "Think About Love (1986) all reaching the U.S. country singles top ten. ("Tennessee Homesick Blues" and "Think About Love" reached number one; "Real Love" also reached number one on the country singles chart, and also became a modest pop-crossover hit). However, RCA Records didn't renew her contract after it expired that year, and she signed with Columbia in 1987.
1989's White Limozeen, which produced two number one hits in "Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That" and "Yellow Roses." Though it looked like Parton's career had been revived, it was actually just a brief revival before contemporary country came in the early '90s and moved all veteran artists out of the charts A 1991 duet with Ricky Van Shelton, "Rockin' Years," reached No. 1 in 1991, but Parton's greatest commercial fortune of the decade -- and probably of all-time -- came when Whitney Houston recorded "I Will Always Love You" for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992, and both the single and the album were massively successful. In 1994, she recorded the album Honky Tonk Angels with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. The album was certified "Gold" by the RIAA, and helped revive the careers of Wynette and Lynn.
She recorded a series of critically acclaimed bluegrass albums, beginning with "The Grass is Blue" (1999) and "Little Sparrow" (2001), both of which won Grammy Awards. Her 2002 album "Halos & Horns" included a bluegrass version of the Led Zeppelin classic Stairway to Heaven. In 2005, Parton released Those Were The Days, her interpretation of hits from the folk-rock era of the late 1960s through early 1970s. The CD featured such classics as John Lennon's "Imagine," Cat Stevens' "Where Do The Children Play," Tommy James' "Crimson & Clover," and Pete Seeger's folk classic "Where Have All The Flowers Gone."
In 2006, Parton earned her second Oscar nomination for "Travelin' Thru," which she wrote specifically for the film Transamerica. Due to the song's nature of accepting a transgender woman without judgement, Dolly received numerous death threats.  She also returned to No. 1 on the country charts later that year by lending her distinctive harmonies to the Brad Paisley ballad, "When I Get Where I'm Going." In September 2007, Parton released her first single off her own record company, Dolly Records titled, "Better Get to Livin'", which eventually peaked at No. 48 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
Her latest album, Backwoods Barbie was released February 26, 2008 and reached #2 on the country charts. The album's debut at No. 17 on the all-genre Billboard 200 albums chart was the highest in her career. The title song was written as part of the score for the musical 9 to 5, an adaptation of the 1980 movie of the same name.
In the late months of 2006 Parton scheduled mini concerts throughout the U.S. and Canada, as a gear up to her European tour in early March 2007. This was her first world tour in many years and hit 17 cities in 21 dates, running from March 6 through April 3. It was her first tour in the U.K. since 2002.
The European Tour 2007 sold out in every European city and gained mostly positive reviews. It took in just over $16 million for 21 shows. The most remarked upon feature of the shows was that very few in attendance, despite Parton being 60, had ever seen her in concert. This, coupled with Parton's enormous popularity in Europe, led to a very well received reception when she took the stage.
She returned to the US with a concert in San Diego on August 1, 2008. She performed her Backwoods Barbie Tour on August 3, 2008 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles to a sold out crowd and standing ovations. [cite?] From August 1 to November 1, she has scheduled 16 dates on both the east and west coasts of the U.S.
In 1980, Jane Fonda decided Dolly Parton was a perfect candidate for her upcoming film, 9 to 5. She was looking for a brassy Southern woman for a supporting role and felt the singer was perfect. Dolly Parton received acclaim for her performance, receiving Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture Actress — Musical/Comedy and New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture — Female. She also scored the biggest solo hit of her career with the title song, which she wrote; it earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. She received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song — Motion Picture. The song won two Grammy Awards, for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was also #78 on American Film Institute's 100 years, 100 songs. She was also named the Top Female Box Office Star title by Motion Picture Herald in both 1981 and 1982.
Parton's other films include The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), for which she received another Golden Globe nomination, Rhinestone where she was paired with Sylvester Stallone, and Steel Magnolias. Parton's last lead role in a theatrical film was in 1992's Straight Talk, opposite James Woods. She played the plainspoken host of a radio program that has people phoning in with problems. The film, while not a blockbuster, did respectably well upon its release. She played an overprotective mother in Frank McKlusky, C.I. with Dave Sheridan, Cameron Richardson, and Randy Quaid. She also played herself in a cameo appearance towards the end of the Hollywood adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies, and in the Sandra Bullock hit film, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous.
She will play as Hannah's godmother on a blowout concert sequence featuring Cyrus and her on Hannah Montana: The Movie Parton will also feature in a documentary called The Book Lady along with Miley Ray Cyrus and Keith Urban.
Dolly Parton has also done voice work for animation, playing herself in the TV series Alvin & the Chipmunks (episode: Urban Chipmunk) (1983) and her voice role as Katrina Eloise "Murph" Murphy in The Magic School Bus (episode: The Family Holiday Special) (1994). She has appeared on many non-musical television shows, usually in cameo roles as herself, for example as "Aunt Dolly" visiting Hannah and her family in the Disney Channel series Hannah Montana (in 2006 "Good Golly, Miss Dolly" and 2007 episode "I Will Always Loathe You"). The Disney role came about due to her real-life relationship as series star Miley Cyrus' godmother. She also appeared in an episode of Reba as Dolly a real estate agency owner. On April 1, 2008, Parton was the guest mentor to the finalists on American Idol, who each interpreted one of her songs. On the following night's episode, the finalists sang "9 to 5", and Parton herself performed "Jesus and Gravity".
"I Will Always Love You" has been covered by many country artists, including such music legends as Linda Ronstadt, on "Prisoner In Disguise" and Kenny Rogers on his 1997 album "Always and Forever," which sold over 4 million copies worldwide, and by LeAnn Rimes. In 1992, Whitney Houston performed it on The Bodyguard soundtrack. Houston's version became the best-selling hit ever written and performed by a female vocalist, with worldwide sales of over 12 million copies.
Parton has twice been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, for "9 to 5" in 1980, and for "Travelin' Thru" from Transamerica, filmed in 2005. She was considered the front-runner in the 2005 Oscar song category, but the song lost to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," from the movie Hustle and Flow. Had Parton's song won, she would have become the first country artist to win an Oscar. (Although other country songs have won the Best Song category in the past, all previous winners had actually been written by non-country artists, most often classical or pop composers.) "Travelin' Thru" did win as Best Original Song award at the 2005 Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards. The song was also nominated, though it did not win, for both Best Original Song by the Foreign Press' for the Golden Globes as well as Best Song by the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
Another Parton performance, "The Day I Fall In Love," a duet with James Ingram from the film Beethoven's 2nd was nominated for an Oscar in 1994 and was performed live by the duo on the awards telecast. Oscar nominations, however, are for the songwriter, not performer, and it did not win.
She also owns Sandollar Productions, a film and television production company, which produced the Fox TV shows Babes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the features Father of the Bride I & II, Straight Talk, Sabrina (1995 film), and Academy Award-winning (for Best Documentary) Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, among other shows. Sandollar is co-owned by Sandy Gallin, Parton's former manager.
Parton also owned a wig company in the early 1990s.
Her Dollywood theme park has also been noted for bringing jobs and tax revenues to a previously depressed region.
Her efforts to preserve the bald eagle through the American Eagle Foundation's sanctuary at Dollywood earned her the Partnership Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003.
She has also worked to raise money on behalf of several other causes, including the Red Cross and a number of HIV/AIDS-related charities.
In December 2006, Parton pledged $500,000 toward a proposed $90 million hospital and cancer center to be constructed in Sevierville, Tennessee, in the name of Dr. Robert F. Thomas, the physician who delivered her; she also announced plans for a benefit concert to raise additional funds for the project. The concert went ahead playing to about 8,000 people.
Dolly published a cookbook in 2006 entitled Dolly's Dixie Fixin's The proceeds support the Dollywood Foundation, under which falls the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
Developing the musical was not an overnight process. According to a broadcast of the public radio program Studio 360 from 10-29-05, in October 2005 Parton was in the midst of composing the songs for an Broadway musical adaptation of the film 9 to 5. In late June 2007, 9 to 5, the Musical was read for industry presentations. The readings starred Megan Hilty, Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block, Bebe Neuwirth, and Marc Kudisch.
She has received seven Grammy Awards and a total of 42 Grammy nominations. At the American Music Awards she has won three awards, but has received 18 nominations. At the Country Music Association, she has received 10 awards and 42 nominations. At the Academy of Country Music, she has won seven awards and 39 nominations. She is one of only five female artists (including Reba McEntire, Barbara Mandrell, Shania Twain, and Loretta Lynn), to win the Country Music Association's highest honor, "Entertainer of the Year."
She was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording in 1984, located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood; a star on the Nashville Star Walk for Grammy winners; and a bronze sculpture on the courthouse lawn in Sevierville, Tennessee. She has called the statue of herself in her hometown "the greatest honor," because it came from the people who knew her.
Parton was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1969, and in 1986 was named one of Ms. Magazine's Women of the Year. In 1986, Parton was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1999, Parton received country music's highest honor, an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She received an honorary doctorate from Carson-Newman College in 1990. This was followed by induction into the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2002, Parton ranked No. 4 in CMT's 40 Greatest Women of Country Music.
She was honored in 2003 with a tribute album called Just Because I'm a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton. The artists who recorded versions of Parton's songs included Melissa Etheridge ("I Will Always Love You"), Alison Krauss ("9 to 5"), Shania Twain ("Coat of Many Colors"), Me'Shell NdegéOcello ("Two Doors Down"), Norah Jones ("The Grass is Blue"), and Sinéad O'Connor ("Dagger Through the Heart"); Parton herself contributed a rerecording of the title song, originally the title song for her first RCA album in 1968. Parton was awarded the Living Legend medal by the U.S. Library of Congress on April 14, 2004, for her contributions to the cultural heritage of the United States. This was followed in 2005 with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given by the U.S. government for excellence in the arts.
On Dec. 3, 2006, Dolly Parton was honored by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for her lifetime of contributions to the arts. Other 2006 honorees included Zubin Mehta, Steven Spielberg, Smokey Robinson and Andrew Lloyd Webber. During the show, some of country music's biggest names came to show their admiration. Carrie Underwood performed Dolly's hit "Islands in the Stream" with original duet partner Kenny Rogers. Alison Krauss performed "Jolene" and duetted "Coat of Many Colors" with Shania Twain. Vince Gill performed "I Will Always Love You" which he sang with Dolly. Jessica Simpson sang "9 to 5" but left the stage in shame mid-way through after forgetting the lyrics. The broadcast on national television did not include her performance. Reba McEntire and Reese Witherspoon also came to pay tribute.
Because of her philanthropy, Dolly Parton received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution at a ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee on November 8, 2007.
On a 2003 broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey asked what kind of cosmetic surgery Parton had undergone. Parton stated that she felt that cosmetic surgery was imperative in keeping with her famous image, but jokingly admitted, "If I have one more facelift, I'll have a beard!" Parton has repeatedly joked about her physical image and surgeries, saying, "If I see something sagging, bagging, and dragging, I’m going to nip it, tuck it, and suck it!" and "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap." (The latter comment often referred to her clothing style as well as her surgeries.) Her size 40DD breast also got her name into a recent rap song by rapper Lil Wayne and Kanye West named Lollipop remix. The lyric in the song is as followed "Lollipop lollipop breasts is just like Dolly Parton."