Tennessee native Dolly Parton was the fourth eldest of 12 siblings in a poor farming family that turned to music to lift their spirits. Dolly got her first guitar at age 7 from her uncle, Bill Owens. She wasted no time finding her footing on a local radio program and, within about five years, she made her way to the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1959. Her first single, “Puppy Love,” followed in 1960.
A 14-year-old Parton landed a deal with Mercury Records. Her debut, 1962's It's Sure Gonna Hurt, was bad enough to end the partnership. Once she graduated from high school, Dolly moved to Nashville and wrote songs with Owens. She also sang on demos and, eventually, gained some recognition from Fred Foster, along with a publishing deal with his Combine Music followed by a record deal with Monument Records.
After a couple of the Parton-Owens collaborations got recorded successfully by Bill Phillips, Dolly finally caught a break with “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy.” Those two cuts caught Porter Wagoner's ear and he hired Dolly to sing on his TV show in late 1967. He also got her a deal with RCA Records.
Dolly's RCA debut came as a duet with Wagoner on "The Last Thing on My Mind." It cracked the Top 10 on the country charts and got the ball rolling. The duo would go on to enjoy six consecutive years of country hits, including a few solo cuts like "Just Because I'm a Woman" and "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)."
Continuing to push Parton as a solo artist, Wagoner got her to record "Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8)" in 1970. Finding its way to number three, the track was the first of many hits over the next few years, including "Joshua," "Coat of Many Colors," and the 1974 smash "Jolene."
With her solid solo footing, Parton stopped singing with Wagoner, other than on the show. More hits flowed in -- "I Will Always Love You," "The Bargain Store," the number three crossover hit "Here You Come Again," and "Baby I'm Burning." Between 1974 and 1980, Dolly racked up eight number one singles among her slew of Top 10 hits.
All of the success was enough to warrant her own TV show, Dolly, beginning in 1976. She also earned the honor of producing her own records and having artists like Emmylou Harris, Kitty Wells, and Linda Ronstadt cover her songs.
Come 1980, Dolly was on fire with three consecutive chart-toppers in "Starting Over Again," "Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You)," and "9 to 5." She also made her acting debut alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the wildly popular film 9 to 5.
Now a bonafide movie star, Dolly was a regular on the silver screen appearing with Burt Reynolds in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) and Sylvester Stallone in Rhinestone (1984).
Her songs continued to fill the Top 10 on the country and pop charts with a new version of "I Will Always Love You" and a duet with Kenny Rogers on "Islands in the Stream." The Dollywood amusement park also opened in 1985.
The following year, Dolly had no Top 10 singles and, as a result, switched to Columbia Records. She also teamed up with Harris and Ronstadt for the platinum-selling Trio album which spawned three hit singles -- "To Know Him Is to Love Him," "Telling Me Lies," and "Those Memories of You."
She kept that momentum going with 1989's White Limozeen and its two number one cuts, "Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That" and "Yellow Roses." But then the 1990s came and country music radio shifted gears. Parton and other iconic artists fell out of favor.
Still, Dolly kept acting (in films like 1992's Straight Talk) and collaborating (on records like 1993's Honky Tonk Angels, which found her working with Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn). Also around that time, Whitney Houston recorded "I Will Always Love You" and topped the pop charts for 14 weeks.
Continuing to mine her own brand, Dolly published her autobiography, 1994's My Life and Other Unfinished Business. Musically, she also branched out with a covers album – 1996's Treasures – and another Trio album. Then, she took an artistic turn with The Grass Is Blue in 1999, Little Sparrow in 2001 and Halos & Horns in 2002.
Putting on a partiotic spin, Parton issued For God and Country in 2003 along with the CD/DVD Live and Well the following year later. Another covers project came in 2005 with Those Were the Days. In 2008, Parton made her way back around to pure country with Backwoods Barbie her 40th career album and the first on her own Dolly Records imprint.
As her tours have always done well, Parton released yet more evidence of that in 2009's Live from London. A collection of new, original material came via Better Day in 2011.