Country singer Dolly Parton poses for a portrait in circa 1955 in Tennessee.
Country singer Dolly Parton poses for a portrait in circa 1955 in Tennessee. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Dolly Parton's Parents Inspired Her Music and Charity


Dolly Parton is notoriously proud of her Tennessee roots. She's been very open about growing up in a one-room cabin in the Smoky Mountains as one of 12 children and how that influenced the person she is today. Despite her humble beginnings, she credits her parents Avie Lee Owens Parton and Robert Lee Parton with surrounding her with love and support as a child that ultimately led her down the road of fame. The Partons had a full household with all of their children -- Willadeene, David, Coy Denver, Bobby Lee, Stella, Cassie Nan, Randy, Larry, Floyd, Freida Estelle, Rachel and Dolly Rebecca Parton. But that didn't stop Dolly from rising to fame in Nashville as a legendary country music singer and actress and never forgetting about her family members no matter how famous she got. Some of her siblings even regularly perform at her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge.




Dolly Parton's Parents

Avie Lee Caroline Owens was born in Lockhart, South Carolina, a cotton farming community. She was the daughter of a preacher and married Robert Lee Parton when she was just 16 years old. She's also been credited as being one of the earliest musical influences for Dolly. When the future star was a young girl, her mother made her a handmade corncob doll. When she sat on the porch singing a song about it, Avie Lee quickly wrote down the lyrics to what would be her very first song, "Little Tiny Tasseltop."

Lee Parton grew up in a family of farmers in Sevierville. As was typical of the time, he needed to focus on helping with the family's farm instead of school. It was actually his illiteracy as an adult that inspired Dolly to create her now global charitable program, the Imagination Library. 

"I remember, out of my heart, just thinking, I'm going to do something. I'm going to start a program. I'm going to get my dad to help me with it," Parton recalled to Marie Claire. "So we just started the little program in our home county there, in Sevier County in East Tennessee And so I said, 'Dad, I'm going to start this program. I want you to help me with this. It's where we give books to children. From the time they're born, they get a book once a month in the mail with their little name on it, until they start school.'

"I'm just really proud that we're able to get books in the hands of that many children. Hopefully that'll just go on forever," Parton reflected. "And I'll always think of my dad, and I always feel proud that I got to share that with him."


Read More: Dolly Parton Started the Imagination Library to Honor Her Dad

During her career, Dolly wrote the song "Coat of Many Colors" about how her mother made her another handmade gift -- a multicolored coat of rags when she was a young child. One of her favorite songs she's ever written, it has since been turned into an NBC TV film, Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors which led to a sequel, Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love. Jennifer Nettles and Ricky Shroeder play her parents in the adaptation. 

Dolly explained to Billboard that after reaching fame, she always wanted to do something special for her parents who had always been good supportive people throughout her life and career. 

"It was always my wish to do something great for my family. I loved my daddy and my mama. My daddy always drove a truck. I bought my daddy a big blue truck, and he was always so proud of that," recalls Parton. "He never would trade it in. He kept it. The truck is still very much in the family today. Daddy's gone now, but I still have the truck. It's on some of the property that I bought that daddy used to own."


"That same year, I bought my mama a Cadillac," she recalled. "Of course, I traded hers in every few years, and she was so proud of that. The last one was a gold Cadillac. That went back to me when Mama passed on. I wouldn't take nothing for it. My husband [Carl Dean] drives it a lot. Because it was Mama's car, and I still drive it some, I call it the 'Dolly-Mama.' Everybody knows not to mess with the Dolly-Mama, because that was such a precious thing. I was always proud that I could do for my family when I started making some money."

Though Dolly Parton's mother accepted the car, she apparently was a bit wary of accepting certain other gifts. On her website, Dolly reflects on the time that she wanted to buy her mother a mink coat after "Coat of Many Colors" became a success.

"After the song had become a hit and had done so much for my career, I wanted to go back home and repay Mama for all the love she had sewn into my coat. I said, 'Mama, let's go to Knoxville. I'm going to buy you a mink coat.' Mama is the type of person who is somewhat uncomfortable about somebody making her an offer like that. At first, she came back with a joke: 'It's bad enough we have to eat little varmints...I don't want to have to start wearing them...' Then she took on a more serious tone as she said, 'Shoot! Where would I wear a mink a pie supper? Give me the money instead.' So I did."


Both of Dolly's parents have passed on, but they must have been incredibly proud of the woman she became and all of the good she did for the world once she reached superstardom.

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