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Dolly Rebecca Parton was born January 19, 1946, in a one-room cabin on the banks of the Little Pigeon River in Pittman Center, Tennessee. She is the fourth of twelve children born to Avie Lee Caroline (née Owens; 1923–2003) and Robert Lee Parton Sr. (1921–2000). Parton's middle name comes from her maternal great-great-grandmother Rebecca (Dunn) Whitted. Parton's father, known as "Lee", worked in the mountains of East Tennessee, first as a sharecropper and later tending his own small tobacco farm and acreage. He also worked construction jobs to supplement the farm's small income. Despite her father's illiteracy, Parton has often commented that he was one of the smartest people she had ever known in regards to business and making a profit.


Parton's mother, Avie Lee, cared for their large family. Her 11 pregnancies (the tenth being twins) in 20 years made her a mother of 12 by age 35. Parton credits her musical abilities to her mother; often in poor health, she still managed to keep house and entertain her children with Smoky Mountain folklore and ancient ballads. Having Welsh ancestors, Avie Lee knew many old ballads that immigrants from the British Isles brought to southern Appalachia in the 18th and 19th century.  Avie Lee's father, Jake Owens, was a Pentecostal preacher, and Parton and her siblings all attended church regularly. Parton has long credited her father for her business savvy, and her mother's family for her musical abilities. When Parton was a young girl, her family moved from the Pittman Center area to a farm up on nearby Locust Ridge. Most of her cherished memories of youth happened there. Today, a replica of the Locust Ridge cabin resides at Parton's namesake theme park Dollywood. The farm acreage and surrounding woodland inspired her to write the song "My Tennessee Mountain Home" in the 1970s. Years after the farm was sold, Parton bought it back in the late 1980s. Her brother Bobby helped with building restoration and new construction.


Parton has described her family as being "dirt poor". Parton's father paid missionary Dr. Robert F. Thomas with a sack of cornmeal for delivering her. Parton would write a song about Dr. Thomas when she was grown. She also outlined her family's poverty in her early songs "Coat of Many Colors" and "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)". For six or seven years, Parton and her family lived in their rustic, one-bedroom cabin on their small subsistence farm on Locust Ridge. This was a predominantly 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.


After graduating from Sevier County High School in 1964, Parton moved to Nashville the next day. Her initial success came as a songwriter, having signed with Combine Publishing shortly after her arrival; with her frequent songwriting partner, her uncle Bill Owens, she wrote several charting singles during this time, including two Top 10 hits for Bill Phillips: "Put It Off Until Tomorrow," and "The Company You Keep" (1966), and Skeeter Davis's number 11 hit "Fuel to the Flame" (1967). Her songs were recorded by many other artists during this period, including Kitty Wells and Hank Williams Jr. She signed with Monument Records in 1965, at age 19; she initially was pitched as a bubblegum pop singer. She released a string of singles, but the only one that charted, "Happy, Happy Birthday Baby", did not crack the Billboard Hot 100. Although she expressed a desire to record country material, Monument resisted, thinking her unique, high soprano voice was not suited to the genre.


After her composition "Put It Off Until Tomorrow", as recorded by Bill Phillips (with Parton, uncredited, on harmony), went to number six on the country chart in 1966, the label relented and allowed her to record country. Her first country single, "Dumb Blonde" (composed by Curly Putman, one of the few songs during this era that she recorded but did not write), reached number 24 on the country chart in 1967, followed by "Something Fishy", which went to number 17. The two songs appeared on her first full-length album, Hello, I'm Dolly.

 

On May 30, 1966, Parton and Carl Thomas Dean (born July 20, 1942, in Nashville, Tennessee) were married in Ringgold, Georgia. Although Parton does not use Dean's surname professionally, she has stated that her pa.ssport reads "Dolly Parton Dean" and that she sometimes uses Dean when signing contracts. Dean, who is retired from running an asphalt road-paving business in Nashville, has always shunned publicity and rarely accompanies his wife to any events. Parton has jokingly said he has only seen her per once. She also has said in interviews that, although it appears they spend little time together, it is simply that nobody sees him publicly. She has commented on Dean's romantic side, saying that he does spontaneous things to surprise her and sometimes even writes poems for her. In 2011, Parton said, "We're really very proud of our marriage. It's the first for both of us. And the last."


On May 6, 2016, Parton announced that she and her husband would renew their vows in honour of their 50th wedding anniversary later in the month.


 

Parton and Dean helped raise several of Parton's younger siblings in Nashville, leading her nieces and nephews to refer to them as "Uncle Peepaw" and "Aunt Granny"; the latter a moniker that later lent its name to one of Parton's Dollywood restaurants. Parton is the godmother of singer-songwriter and actress Miley Cyrus.

 

 





 

 

Carl and Dolly Dean


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