Why Dolly Parton Got Married in Georgia

A Tale of Two Weddings

When Dolly Parton tells the story of her wedding day, you’d think it just happened. She remembers every little detail so vividly, it’s hard to believe it all happened in 1966.

Parton was in Chicago on Sunday (Aug. 7) for a sold-out show at Ravinia Festival, and she sat down with me before she took the stage to tell me all about her two weddings: the first one in 1966 and the recent one when she renewed her vows with her better half of 50 years, Carl Dean.

“When Carl and I told his mother that we were getting married,” Parton told me, “she was so excited that she was finally gonna get to do a wedding. Because her only daughter had eloped. So she was so happy she would get to throw a big wedding party.”

But Parton’s record label had other plans.

“Everyone at my label — Monument Records and Fred Foster — had invested money in me and in building my career, so they asked me if I’d wait a year to get married. And I didn’t want to not do what I was supposed to do. Carl’s mother was just heartbroken,” she recalled.

But on May 30, 1966, Parton and Dean got married anyway. They just went to Georgia to do it, she said, so that it wouldn’t be reported in the Tennessee newspapers.

“It was just my mother and Carl and me,” she said. “We went across the state line to Ringgold, Georgia. My mother made me a little white dress and a little bouquet and a little Bible. But I said, ‘I can’t get married in a courthouse because I’ll never feel married.’ So we found a little Baptist church in town, and went up to Pastor Don Duvall and said, ‘Would you marry us?’ We got pictures on the steps right outside the church.”

Fifty years later, Parton and Dean no longer needed to cross state lines to hide anything. So they recently renewed their vows in a special ceremony in Nashville.

“I missed the big long wedding dress the first time, so this time, we went all out,” she said. “I wore a Steve Summers dress. Carl looked great in his suit. Then we went down to Ringgold again and spent the night in our camper, went out to the lake for a few days.

“I finally got to have the wedding that I never got to have.”

Her new album, Pure & Simple, will be released on Aug. 19.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.