Yep, StyleBlueprint has a bit of a girl crush on Dolly Parton, and after we caught up with the country music superstar, it’s full-blown! There’s little wonder why Dolly, 70, is one of the best-loved women to ever come out of the state of Tennessee, much less the South. She might be diminutive in stature at just 5 feet tall, but she is a huge personality: playful, generous and sincere. One of 12 children born in the mountains of East Tennessee to Avie and Robert Lee Parton, Dolly’s can-do attitude was apparent from the start. She overcame many challenges in her early life, including poverty and being bullied at school. But Dolly was a dreamer — and she wasn’t going to let anything or anyone keep her down. From her early days singing on local radio shows in Knoxville to joining the “Porter Wagoner Show” in 1967 and then breaking out on her own, Dolly’s career reads like a storybook. She has composed over 3,000 songs and is one of the few entertainers to receive at least one nomination from all four major annual American entertainment award organizations (Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Oscar). She’s tied with Bruce Springsteen for the most Grammy nominations (46!) and has had 25 #1 hits on the Billboard Country Charts.

Dolly didn’t take her numerous accolades and leave Sevier County, TN, behind, however. She’s invested millions of dollars developing some of East Tennessee’s most successful family attractions, including Dollywood, The Dixie Stampede and Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, which opened in 2015. She’s also the driving force behind the Imagination Library, which promotes early childhood literacy by giving free, age-appropriate books to children each month. Since its inception, the Imagination Library has sent 60 million books to children across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Dolly and her husband, Carl Dean, celebrate 50 years of marriage in 2016. And today, we’re THRILLED to have Dolly Parton as our FACE of the South!

Dolly Parton was the fourth f 12 children born to her parents, Avie Lee and Robert Lee.
Dolly Parton was the fourth of 12 children born to her parents, Avie and Robert Parton. Image: Dollywood Foundation

Your daddy was your inspiration for starting the Imagination Library. When and how did that idea really take form for you?

It all started here in Sevier County. I had supported a bunch of programs in the schools, but everyone we talked to said we needed to start earlier in a child’s life. I saw firsthand the hardship caused by the inability to read and write, so I thought if I could do just one thing to help a child, it would be to inspire him or her to love reading.

Did you ever expect the Imagination Library to reach the heights it has, being a worldwide program that’s delivered more than 60 million books?

No, I never dreamed it would have a worldwide reach. When we started I just hoped the neighboring county would adopt the program, and now here we are approaching 1 million kids a month. It’s been quite a journey, but in many ways we are just getting started.

I get far too much credit for all that has happened. We have hundreds of local partners who invest millions of dollars to provide the Imagination Library to their children. They are the real heroes.

The Little Engine That Could is the first book sent to children who are enrolled in the Imagination Library program.
The Little Engine That Could is the first book sent to children who are enrolled in the Imagination Library program. Image: Dollywood Foundation

Multiyear research shows that in Shelby County, TN – home of Books from Birth, the largest Imagination Library affiliate – children who have been in the program score significantly higher on all reading tests than those who were not. That’s life-changing, especially in a county where it’s estimated that more than 120,000 adults can’t read well enough to fill out a job application or read to their children. Did you ever think that the Imagination Library would have that kind of impact?

To tell you the truth, I did think the program would have this kind of impact. It’s just common sense that if you love reading, you will love learning. So we tried to figure out the best way we could inspire such a love.

Dollywood has a new ride launching this year — Lightning Rod, a super-fast, wooden roller coaster. Will you ride it?

Never in a million years! The faster a coaster goes the more scared I get. I’m really happy that so many people love roller coasters, but I am not one of them.

Do you have a favorite ride or experience at Dollywood?

I love the shows. My favorite show is “My People,” because it really is my people who tell the story of our family. I am so proud of all of the young talent we have at the park. The singing, acting and dancing are all first-rate, so no matter what someone sees, I know they will enjoy a wonderful experience.

The Lightning Rod
When the Lightning Rod opens, it will be the world’s fastest wooden coaster with top speeds of 73 mph. Here is the first drop, which is likely why you won’t find Dolly on this ride! Image: Dollywood

You speak your mind, you’re feminine, you’re strong and smart — and clearly an incredible businesswoman. I was going to say that you’re the epitome of a strong Southern woman, but you’re really the epitome of a strong woman, period. Where does your drive and strength come from?

Daddy and Mama set the stage for me because they passed on to me their drive, their strength and their talents. They gave me what I needed, and the rest was up to me. I believe we were all put on this earth for a purpose, and one of the blessings of my life is that I know my purpose. Yet I also know that if you want your dreams to come true you have to work at it, and I do work at it every single day.

It takes a strong woman to admit she’s had plastic surgery. You’ve met that head-on and, frankly, owned it. Why?

It always seemed silly to me to pretend otherwise. It appears to be a much bigger deal to other people than it is to me.

Dolly doesn't mince words about the fact she has had plastic surgery.
Dolly doesn’t mince words about the fact she has had plastic surgery. “It always seemed silly to me to pretend otherwise,” she says. Image: Dollywood Foundation

What one word describes you?


What’s your best piece of advice for others?

I don’t give advice, but I can share information. I have always tried to follow the light. I seek the good and the possible and understand that there are no real failures, just lots of opportunities to learn.

What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without excluding faith, family and friends?

Chicken and dumplins’ (that counts as two!) and books. I read every single day for joy, for inspiration and for relaxation.

Thanks to Dolly for taking time to answer our questions! You can learn more about the Imagination Library here, and check out what’s new at Dollywood here.


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About the Author
Sally Walker