Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton


What’s not to love about Dolly Parton? Born into poverty in a one-room cabin in Little Pigeon River, Tennessee, she was the fourth of 12 children. Her father worked as a sharecropper and tobacco farmer and moonlighted as a construction worker to make ends meet and see his children succeed. Parton did her part supporting the family as early as 10 when she first appeared on The Cas Walker radio show. She began recording at 13 and soon met Johnny Cash at the Grand Ole Opry. Her first series of hits were duets with Porter Wagoner, but she struck out on her own in 1968, though only to moderate success for several years after. Her first real hit came with her rendition of Kimmie Rodgers’ Mule Skinner Blues, which went to number three. Since then, she’s become one of the most successful music entertainers in history. She’s had best-selling albums that span the gamut of gold, platinum, and multi-platinum success. Twenty-five of her songs have reached the number-one slot on Billboard’s country 100 (a record number), and she’s dropped 44 career Top 10 country albums. A staggering statistic is that she’s composed over 3,000 songs. Her list of career awards is dazzling, with 11 Grammy awards and a record 50 nominations, including a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award (though she’s still going strong and even working on a rock album right now). And, of course, she’s also well known for her acting exploits with hit movies like 9 to 5 and the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. That’s a landmark career for any recording artist. But next to that success is her meaningful activity as a philanthropist.

Why They Made the Worthy 100: Though she’s relatively quiet about it, Parton is one of the most generous entertainers in the industry and one of the most inventive. Her Dollywood Foundation initiated a literacy program called the Imagination Library that mails one book a month to each enrolled child from birth until they enter kindergarten. Over 1600 communities across five nations participate today, supporting around 850,000 children. As a result, she’s been honored by the Library of Congress when the Imagination Library sent its one-millionth book. She’s supported a hospital and cancer center financially and through a benefit concert. She’s also a friend to animals, supporting PETA and making genuine efforts to save the endangered bald eagle by building a sanctuary through her Dollywood Foundation. She’s helped victims of the 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, supporting more than 900 families with totals reaching $10,000 per family. She even donated $1 million that helped develop the Moderna vaccine at the beginning of the pandemic. Though she claims others in entertainment history are doing even more than she is, that seems unlikely. However, the self-effacing statement makes her winning the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in October of 2022 all the more fitting. 

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