Dolly Parton has been revered for decades for her positivity, talent, and giving nature.
It’s no wonder that the 77-year-old superstar came from some of the most humble beginnings we have ever heard of…
Dolly Parton has always been a humble celebrity. The singer-songwriter is well-known for her business acumen, her electrifying singing, and her philanthropy. Her drive and kindness have taken her to great success in the music, film, and television industry.
It is the reminder of her humble beginnings with her big family that helped motivate her to become the star she is today.
Dolly, whose real name is Dolly Rebecca Parton, was born on January 19, 1946. The family’s one-bedroom cabin was located in Sevierville, Tennessee, on Locust Ridge near the Great Smoky Mountains.
Her father, Robert Lee Parton, was a sharecropper who also supplemented his income with construction to provide for his children. He could never read or write due to a lack of education.
Born into a family of 11 siblings, Dolly was certainly faced with challenges. However, she was also always surrounded by music from a young age.
Avie Lee Owens, Parton’s mother, was a performer who taught her daughter how to sing. The family often sang together, and Owens taught her children everything from church music to Elizabethan ballads passed down from generation to generation.
Additionally, Parton’s grandfather, Jake Robert Owens, was a minister and the composer of the hymn “Singing His Praise.” Her uncle, Sam Owens, was a musician and songwriter who saw Dolly’s talent and future at a young age.
Eventually, Dolly got a guitar from her uncle. Before long, she had started to write songs of her own.
“Music was such a large part of our whole family,” Parton recalled. “All of my mama’s people were musical. They all played some musical instruments. Of course, I took my music real seriously, and I was always plucking along on somebody’s instrument — whatever they would leave lying around or whenever my family would come. But I always loved the guitar.”
Dolly Parton’s siblings included Stella Mae, Cassie Nan, twins Freida Estelle and Rachel Ann, Willadeene, David Wilburn, Coy Denver, Bobby Lee, Robert, and Larry. Robert died in 2021 after a battle with cancer, while Larry died as a newborn.
Because she was fourth of 12 siblings overall, she often helped her parents to care for the younger children in their small home. Together, the family shared one bedroom and one living room. They had neither electricity nor running water.
The family’s log cabin is still standing today, and Parton has always been open about her humble upbringing there. It has made her incredibly sympathetic to the poor and has fueled much of her philanthropy.
In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Parton acknowledged her rural childhood and what it was like to grow up how she did. She said:
“Of course, not everything was perfect, but I prefer to remember the best of times.”
She reminisced about singing at church, playing games with her siblings, and doing chores she disliked to help out. She also mentioned the endless laughter her family shared.
Her siblings would often sing, the star explained but refused to play her “backup” singers when she wanted to take center stage.
Their home was chaotic, of course, but the love they all shared made it worth it to the country music star.
The family made use of the outdoors quite often since their cabin barely had enough room for them to sleep in, much less play games or cook.
Even with their challenges, Parton explained that her parents would remind them how lucky they were to have a roof over their heads and food to eat. She recalled:
”We were poor but I never felt poor.”
In a Playboy magazine interview with journalist Lawrence Grobel in March 1978, Parton revealed that it was not until she was eight that she saw a toilet and other basic bathroom items at her aunt’s home. She was fascinated by them.
Without running water or a proper bathroom, the family could not bathe as often. They often made homemade soap and drove to the nearby river to wash up.
Recalling how much of their homemade soap would run down the river and how dirty the children would get, Parton said they would have to leave a ring around the Little Pigeon River, likening their river bath to a “bathtub.”
In the winter, it would get too cold or icy to use the river, and the family would preserve a pan of water to use sparingly. When Grobel asked how many times she and her family would bathe in the winter season, Parton replied:
”Well, we bathed once a week whether we needed it or not, as the saying goes.”
As she grew older, bathing became more important. As a high school student, Dolly would try to wash up almost every night, noting the behaviors of the younger children. She revealed:
”The kids peed on me every night. We slept three and four in the bed. I would wash every night. And as soon as I go to bed, the kids would wet on me, and I’d have to get up in the morning and do the same thing.”
Parton did not act disgusted while telling her anecdote, explaining that the situation provided missing warmth in the winter.
Keeping all of her young life in mind, Parton has made it a mission to help those less fortunate than herself. She gives away millions of dollars every year, keeping her family in mind.
Her philanthropy is largely inspired by the love she has for her family. She remarked:
”My family will always be my greatest love. Sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle, but there’s an element of family in everything I do.”
In 2022, Forbes estimated Parton’s net worth at $375 million, making her a self-made millionaire. Her theme park, Dollywood, and her ownership over her song rights are largely responsible for this incredible fortune.
She uses much of that money to donate to a variety of causes, from animals to childhood literacy. The star also performs at charity events and tries to use her platform to help those in need however she can.
We are amazed by how Dolly Parton was able to keep her faith and remember her humble beginnings as she rose to fame. It’s beautiful how much she has helped the world simply by learning the challenges of poverty at a young age.
Let us know what you think of Dolly’s upbringing in the comments!