A list of the most influential artists in history chosen by country stars themselves, another honoree is named each week on CMT Hot 20 Countdown.
Parton was born into impoverished conditions in Sevier County in the Great Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee. After singing locally as a child, she became a popular featured artist on The Porter Wagoner Show, a nationally syndicated television program. Her partnership with Wagoner lasted until 1974 when Parton decided to strike out on her own.
The split was the inspiration behind one of her most enduring songs, the crossover hit “I Will Always Love You.”
Since then, Parton has combined a sparkling personality, outrageous style and undeniable talent to become one of country music’s most beloved female artists.
She has scored a total of 25 No. 1’s including “Jolene,” “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That” and “Islands in the Stream,” one of several duets with Kenny Rogers.
Parton is also an accomplished actress, appearing memorably in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and 9 to 5, among other films. She owns the Dollywood theme park near her childhood home and campaigns for childhood literacy with her Imagination Library charity.
She is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, among many other honors.
“With Dolly, she has been such a strong and smart woman, and I think that just strictly speaking, the term artist applies to her so well,” Worsham said. “She came from nothing, she knew what she wanted to say, she had all of these standards and she had this infectious personality. … She reinvented herself at every era, she wrote books and she starred in movies. And she is still going. I read her biography, and she gets up at 4 or 5 in the morning every day. She still writes songs, and I bet she’s writing better songs than she’s ever written.”
“Dolly’s definitely an influence for me in keeping a sense of humor about very real things — that it’s OK to be a solid artist and go for that but keep a light heart about it, too,” Carter said. “She’s always done that.
“She’s the most creative, funny girl in the world,” Carter continued. “I love her confidence, I love her beauty. I love her making a lot out of how she came from nothing. She should have some honorary presidential monument to her because she’s just done it authentically, and I love that.”
“Dolly Parton is an American icon,” Bryan declared. “No doubt, one of the greatest songwriters of all time. And when you think of Dolly Parton, you can’t help but think of somebody you’d want to visit with. She’d make you feel like her best friend. Somebody like her, it seems like she’s never had a bad day.
“No matter where you go, no matter what part of the world, there’s people who know who Dolly Parton is. And to go for so many years of being a singer and a songwriter and to be an amazing actor and put out some of the movies she did … she’s somebody still to this day who is waking up and working hard on ‘What’s Dolly Parton’s next thing?’ It’s pretty amazing.”
Many artists cited Parton as a powerful example of what women can accomplish in country music.
“I really love, as a woman, that she’s kicked the doors open in country,” Nettles said. “When you think of a song like ‘Jolene,’ for example, and how it was bold at the time. To talk about that circumstance of that love triangle and to really be honest and say ‘Don’t take him, ‘cause I know you can, but please don’t, he’s all that I have,’ that’s raw and human, and I just love that so much.”
“Dolly Parton is from head-to-toe talented,” she said. “She is not only an incredible singer, songwriter, actress, she’s also a comedian and a great guitar player. I mean, she has it all. And there really have not been that many female artists who have been able to kind of conquer every aspect of entertainment.”
To Rogers, a longtime friend and musical collaborator, the reason for Parton’s success is no mystery.
“I think the artists who survive in this business are the artists who are who they say they are,” he said. “You can pretend to be something for a while, but after about a year, the real you is going to come out, and I think Dolly is so Dolly.
“She had a pretty tough life when she was growing up, and she did not hesitate to share that with people. And I think that’s what makes people love you … when they have a sense of what you went through to get where you are and how you overcame it because it gives them hope to overcome it.”