She emerged from poverty in the Smoky Mountains, the first of her family to graduate high school. She dreamed of being a country music singer, but it was her songwriting that got her in the door. Over the course of more than forty years, she has successfully navigated countless styles of country music, ranging from bluegrass to Hollywood pop-country, remaining a popular and relevant recording artist through the countless sea changes that occurred in the industry around her.
Dolly Parton’s story begins in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Tennessee, where she was the fourth of twelve children. She began writing songs before she had begun formal schooling, and would physically force her younger siblings to watch her performances. Her mother taught her the old mountain songs, with a penchant for those with tragic undertones. This was a big influence on Parton’s writing, particularly in the first decade of her recording career.
Her uncle, Bill Owens, was an early believer in her talent, and took ten year old Dolly to Knoxville to meet Cas Walker, owner a successful chain of grocery stores. He had a radio and television show that promoted the stores, and he had Parton sing jingles and entertain. She earned twenty dollars a week, and kept the gig while finishing her education.
When she was thirteen, Owens finagled studio time for Dolly in Louisiana, where she cut some sides for Goldband Records. She traveled with Owens to Nashville, with her recording of “Puppy Love” in tow, and hung around the back door of the Opry until she could meet Johnny Cash. She begged him to let her on the Opry, and he explained that to do so, another performer would have to give up their spot. Jimmy C. Newman graciously volunteered, and Cash introduced the teenager. She was only supposed to do one song, but she earned three encores.
Parton and Owens returned to Nashville frequently, and Parton’s songwriting caught the attention of Buddy Killen, who signed her briefly to a publishing contract. Mercury Records issued a single of Dolly singing one of her songs, “(It May Not Kill Me) But it’s Sure Gonna Hurt.” She also recorded a teenybopper record, “Don’t Drop Out,” which went nowhere. After becoming the first member of her family to graduate high school, Parton moved to Nashville the very next day.
She met her future husband at a laundromat the same day she arrived in town, but he was headed into the army. She wed Carl Dean two years later, when he returned from the service, and they’ve been together ever since. While she aspired to be a country singer, it was her songwriting that first earned her success on Music Row. She was signed to a writer’s deal with Combine Music, and she penned singles by Skeeter Davis (“Fuel to the Flame”) and Hank Williams Jr. (“I’m in No Condition”). When Bill Phillips took her song “Put it Off Until Tomorrow” to #6, she earned a record deal of her own, signing with Monument.
Her first single, the clever Curly Putman song “Dumb Blonde,” went to #24, and she penned her next hit, the top twenty “Something Fishy.” Her debut set was dubbed Hello, I’m Dolly, and Monument released it in 1967. When Porter Wagoner needed a female singer to replace Norma Jean on his television and touring show, he chose Dolly, and was instrumental in having her switch from Monument to RCA Records.
Over the next few years, she would have many big hit duets with Wagoner, starting right away with their first single, “The Last Thing on My Mind,” at the end of 1967. Parton penned quite a few of them, including “Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark,” “Yours Love,” “Tomorrow is Forever” and “Lost Forever in Your Kiss.” Parton won her first industry awards with Porter, as the CMA named them Vocal Group in 1968, and then Vocal Duo in 1970 and 1971.
But Parton was also pursuing her solo career, and it was on her solo records that she was fully blossoming as a writer who did not mince words or shy away from uncomfortable subjects. Her first RCA single, “Just Because I’m a Woman,” was from the perspective of a woman just married, and her new husband is angry that she is not a virgin. She makes clear, “I’ve made my mistakes, but listen and understand. My mistakes are no worse than yours just because I’m a woman. So when you look at me, don’t feel sorry for yourself. Just think of all the shame you might have brought somebody else.”
A full two years before Loretta Lynn’s celebrated “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Parton documented the poverty she grew up in on her 1968 single, “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).” She was a mountain girl turned prostitute on her classic “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy.” On her best early track, “Down From Dover,” she was an outcast for getting pregnant. Wagoner insisted the song was too depressing to be a single, so he pushed RCA to release “Daddy, Come and Get Me” instead, even though that song had a girl institutionalized by her roving husband.
Her first major solo hit ended up being a cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mule Skinner Blues”, but she followed it up in 1971 with her self-penned hit, “Joshua”, which was her first #1 single. Later that year, she released her signature ballad, “Coat of Many Colors”, which poetically recounted a childhood memory of her mother sewing a coat from her out of donated rags. It remains Parton’s favorite song she’s ever written.
Over the next few years, Parton was a stunningly prolific writer, penning several songs which went on to become country classics, like “Jolene,” “The Bargain Store,” “Love is Like a Butterfly,” “The Seeker” and “”Please Don’t Stop Loving Me.” That last song became her only #1 hit with Porter Wagoner, and when she left his show after seven years, she penned the bittersweet “I Will Always Love You,” which would become her most well-known composition.
Parton’s success as a writer was not limited to her solo and duet hits. Linda Ronstadt was the first to cover “I Will Always Love You,” including it on her Prisoner in Disguise album in 1975. Olivia Newton-John topped the pop charts in several countries with her cover of “Jolene.” Merle Haggard had a #1 hit with Parton’s “Kentucky Gambler” in early 1975, and over the next few years, Emmylou Harris would score with “To Daddy” and Waylon Jennings with “Waltz Me to Heaven,” while Parton herself racked up one self-written hit after another.
Parton was named CMA’s Female Vocalist in 1975 and 1976, but was frustrated by the small scale of her success. “Jolene” had been her biggest song up until that point, and the single had sold 60,000 copies. She looked over to the pop chart and saw that big hits over there sold in the hundreds of thousands. She saw no reason why she should be held back from that. She hooked up with an L.A. manager and booking company, and began recording more pop-flavored material.
Her personality was a perfect fit for The Tonight Show, where she provided Johnny Carson with several classic moments and quite a bit of material, as his jokes about her ample bosom became staples of the show. Her first crossover album, New Harvest…First Gathering got the ball rolling, with the stunning gospel ballad “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” as the hit single from the set. But Parton’s popularity exploded with her next album, Here You Come Again.
The title track was written by pop songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Well, and it not only topped the country chart for five weeks, it crossed over to pop, selling a million copies in the process. The album of the same name went platinum and won Parton her first Grammy. She wrote the album’s other two big hits, “It’s all Wrong, But it’s all Right” and “Two Doors Down,” both written on the same night during a caffeine-induced writing binge.
Before the album broke through on such a big scale, Parton had been on the receiving end of a storm of criticism for allegedly leaving country music, to which she replied, “I’m not leaving country music. I’m taking it with me.” By 1978, the country music industry was back on her side, naming her Entertainer of the Year at both the ACMs and the CMAs. Her next three albums were hits at both country and pop radio, and Parton had her own short-lived variety show.
Then a chance meeting on a plane with Jane Fonda led to her first movie role, playing Doralee in 9 to 5. The movie was a smash, and led to one of her biggest singles as well. Parton was bored on the movie set, so she wrote “9 to 5” to the beat of her clicking fingernails. Not only did the song top the country charts, it became her first #1 pop hit, winning her two Grammys and earning her first Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
Parton’s success continued unabated, with her big hits over the next few years including a re-recording of “I Will Always Love You” for her second film, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Parton became the first country artist in history to go to #1 with different versions of the same song. Her 1983 duet with Kenny Rogers, “Islands in the Stream”, was another massive hit, selling more than two million copies and topping the pop and country singles charts.
By the time she left RCA in 1985, she’d enjoyed twenty #1 hits. She was frustrated, though, with the label’s lack of promotion and jumped ship for Columbia Records. Her first release for the label, Rainbow, sank quietly, but for good reason. It was completely overshadowed by the success of Trio, her collaboration with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt that same year. The album sold platinum and won them a slew of awards. Parton sang lead on one of the set’s four big hits, with “Wildflowers” being her most traditional hit in ages.
Parton made a conscious effort to record material with less of a pop flavor, and the result was a trio of top-selling albums for Sony, White Limozeen, Eagle When She Flies and Slow Dancing With the Moon, the latter two being her first platinum solo albums since the late seventies. She continued to have radio hits, including three #1 singles. She also starred in network variety show and in several more films on the big and small screen, the most famous being her supporting role in Steel Magnolias.
Parton’s songwriting received renewed attention when Whitney Houston turned “I Will Always Love You” into an international pop smash, resulting in Parton being honored with BMI’s Most Performed Song of the Year award. Despite the pop success, Parton was turning increasingly to her roots. She found great success with Honky Tonk Angels, an album recorded with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, and she recorded a collection of mountain songs on Heartsongs: Live From Home.
In 1999, Parton left the major labels behind and signed with Sugar Hill. She’d heard that bluegrass fans had been polled regarding which artist they’d most want to see record a bluegrass album, and she was on the top of the list. The result was The Grass is Blue, which won her a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album and was named Album of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
That fall, Parton was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, one of the youngest living inductees in history. She shifted from bluegrass to mountain soul on her 2001 set Little Sparrow, which won her another Grammy for her rendition of Collective Soul’s “Shine.” To promote her next set, Halos and Horns, Parton toured for the first time in more than a decade, playing to sold-out crowds everywhere she went.
Recent years brought her another Oscar nomination, for her theme song to the movie Transamerica, “Travelin’ Thru.” Parton’s songs were used on country night during this year’s season of American Idol, where Parton served as a guest mentor. Her newest album, Backwoods Barbie, was her highest-charting since her 1991 chart-topping set Eagle When She Flies. The title cut is one of several songs she’s written for the Broadway production of 9 to 5, which will be hitting the Great White Way in 2009.
Over the course of country music history, there have been women who have made their name through their songwriting talents, like Cindy Walker and Matraca Berg. There have been women who have connected with roots and bluegrass music, like Alison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent. There have been women who have risen to great success from their mountain backgrounds, like Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless. There have been women who have become pop phenomenons, like Shania Twain and Anne Murray. There have been women who have become multimedia stars of stage and screen, like Reba McEntire and Barbara Mandrell.
But there has never been a woman who has done all of the above, and done it well, like Dolly Parton has. The scale and scope of Parton’s success is completely unprecedented in country music, and given the unique combination of her talents and her experiences, may be unreplicable. She represents both the rich heritage and limitless possibilities of women in country music, with her contributions to American popular culture continuing unabated in her fifth decade on the public stage.
Country music can lay claim to many tremendous female artists. Dolly Parton is the greatest.
- “Just Because I’m a Woman,” 1968
- “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy,” 1969
- “Just Someone I Used to Know” (with Porter Wagoner), 1969
- “Coat of Many Colors,” 1971
- “Jolene,” 1973
- “I Will Always Love You,” 1974
- “The Bargain Store,” 1975
- “Here You Come Again,” 1977
- “9 to 5,” 1980
- “Islands in the Stream” (with Kenny Rogers), 1983
- “Shine,” 2001
- Joshua (1971)
- Coat of Many Colors (1971)
- My Tennessee Mountain Home (1973)
- Jolene (1974)
- New Harvest…First Gathering (1977)
- Here You Come Again (1977)
- 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs (1980)
- Trio (1987)
- Honky Tonk Angels (1993)
- Heartsongs: Live From Home (1994)
- The Grass is Blue (1999)
- Little Sparrow (2001)
- ACM Entertainer, 1978
- ACM Top Female Vocalist, 1981
- ACM Single (“Islands in the Stream”), 1984
- ACM Top Vocal Duet (Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton), 1984
- ACM Album (Trio), 1988
- ACM Video (“When I Get Where I’m Going”), 2006
- ACM Vocal Event (“When I Get Where I’m Going”), 2006
- CMA Vocal Group (Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton), 1968
- CMA Vocal Duo (Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton), 1970 & 1971
- CMA Female Vocalist, 1975 & 1976
- CMA Entertainer, 1978
- CMA Vocal Event (Trio), 1988
- CMA Vocal Event (“I Will Always Love You”), 1996
- CMA Musical Event (“When I Get Where I’m Going”), 2006
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (Here You Come Again), 1979
- Grammy: Best Country Song (“9 to 5”), 1982
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“9 to 5”), 1982
- Grammy: Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group (Trio), 1988
- Grammy: Best Country Vocal Collaboration with Vocals (“After the Gold Rush”), 2000
- Grammy: Best Bluegrass Album (The Grass is Blue), 2001
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Shine”), 2002
- Country Music Hall of Fame, 1999
Dolly is certainly in anybody’s top ten but #1 is overvaluing her considerably. She has had a great and enduring career, but with long stretches of operating in a vast musical wasteland (basically 1977-1995), as far as her own musical output is concerned. Dolly has made more bad records than anyone in your top ten., possibly more than the rest of your top ten combined.
I discovered Dolly Parton fairly early (1967) and have heard all of the various stages of her career. Dolly is given to excesses and it shows up in much of her music. I have liked most of her recent output and she certainly is talented, but as an influence on future generations of country singers, she ranks behind many
Excellent post! My students will truly enjoy this.
Really nice work with the countdown Kevin. I remember when you first mentioned doing something like this, and the end-result has been weeks of enjoyable reading, and quite a bit of info I didn’t know. When are you starting with the men? Lol
Once again, I think you make a very strong case for this ranking, and I’d like to commend you on a feature well-done. I predict that people who stumble upon this site will be commenting on this thread to dispute your rankings for some time to come now. :)
“Over the course of country music history, there have been women who have made their name through their songwriting talents, like Cindy Walker and Matraca
Berg. There have been women who have connected with roots and bluegrass music, like Alison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent. There have been women who have rose
to great success from their mountain backgrounds, like Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless. There have been women who have become pop phenomenons, like Shania
Twain and Anne Murray. There have been women who have become multimedia stars of stage and screen, like Reba McEntire and Barbara Mandrell.
But there has never been a woman who has done all of the above, and done it well, like Dolly Parton has.?”
I thought Lorretta would be #1, but there’s the perfect argument for Dolly’s placement here.
Much of Dolly’s big hits were in the eighties. To me, she put out great songs in that decade, but the production was unfortunately marred by the sound of the time. It’s rare that I can hear a good song through thick eighties production, but I think that many of Dolly’s were so good that I am able to hear the good in her eighties flavored songs. I just wish she could re-record them with better production.
As for the other decades of her music, I’m quite a fan.
Moreover, I love her voice.
Thanks for a great series Kevin! There is a lot of good information – much more than I can soak up at this time. But, I’m sure that I will return to this series in the future.
I also appreciate a lot of the comments.
Charlie Says: “When are you starting with the men?”. I would like to see that also.
I think it is safe to say that in her entire career, there is always something that Dolly has done that people are bound for find tasteless to them. But that’s the nature of the woman–she’ll do what she feels, regardless. And while there have been a few undisputed clinkers (remember her 1984 movie disaster RHINESTONE, folks?), the fact is that she has done a great deal to make country music accessible to people who would otherwise find it hick, backwards, and redneck. And she hasn’t been afraid to court controversy for those crossover moves she made in the 70s and 80s either.
Even before that huge crossover success, Dolly was willing to challenge pre-conceived notions about country; her 1976 TV variety show found her first teaming with her two newfound pals Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris in a way that would eventually lead to the Trio records. And she almost got Elvis to do “I Will Always Love You” in ’74 (but the Colonel’s insistence that she give up 25% of her publishing rights of the song to Elvis caused her to balk–and rightly so).
And let’s be honest. this is a woman that can laugh at her own excesses–as she is often quoted as saying, “It costs a lot to look this cheap.”
In short, yes, Dolly deserves the #1 ranking on this list, which, however, doesn’t diminish any of the accolades and accomplishments of the other folks there.
Hard to argue with her being number 1 and you’ve given the perfect justisfication for why she deserves the spot. Great job on this feature. It’s what originally brought me to this site, and i’ll definitely keep coming back.
Bring on the 100 greatest men I say!
I am a huge Barbara Mandrell fan, but I think Dolly as #1 is an excellent choice. Well done!
Never underestimate a woman with a theme park named after her.
As has already been said–excellent write up! She’s one of my personal favorite, but I probably would have put someone else first, until I read your argument for her placing.
You didn’t even mention Dollywood and all of her charity contributions (which aren’t really publicized much). I know for just one, she donates tons of books to children in the rural mountain areas as part of a literarcy program.
I’m happy to see who number 1 is, but I’m sad that the countdown is over. I’ve learned a lot, and I can’t even begin to imagine the work it took to research and write all of your bios. Thanks….
Wow. I actually can’t really find any argument on why she shouldn’t number one. And that write up was great as I didn’t even know about many of those things. I also really enjoyed the ending piece with mentioning the other women on your list.
Lastly, thanks for doing this list. It has really been nice to read and watch these wonderful woman. While many people may not agree with some of these spots, me included, I can’t say that you haven’t thought through each spot throughly and didn’t just place them somewhere just because you wanted another one higher per say.
So thanks for putting up with all the crap from many of us, lol. And thank you for doing so much research on these pieces. Haha, now Ialso want to see the Top 100 Men haha.
Well this has been an interesting countdown. Dolly is deserving, very, having a voice and a posture that is unforgettable and everlasting in the business. She not only made her place in history in her early days, but colaberated with countless stars for some of music’s best work and even started her own record label in the dawn of a new era after being rejected for her age and “forgettability” in todays world only to show todays labels and artists how to get it done with a #2 album and even a spot on American Idol with the contestants singer her songs in the same range of greats like Lennon and Diamond. She is the best female performer and singer to ever hit country music’s airwaves.
This is without a doubt, the right choice. If you look at any other woman in the top ten and list what is great about each one. Dolly has done that, and more. For anyone that is critical of her late 70’s and early 80’s era. Keep in mind that is what REALLY made her a star and a HUGE part of what made country music more popular. It would have been a huge mistake for Dolly and a huge blow for country music if Dolly had never crossed over. The amount fo variety that Dolly has done is what made her #1.
I’ve really enjoyed reading your countdown, and am very impressed with your career summaries. I was a latecomer to your blog, when someone alerted me to your #21 choice, but I’ve read almost all the entries by now. And as argumentative as I can be, I have no major quibbles with your choices. I will be a regular visitor from now on.
OF COURSE!! Excellent choice… I could not agree more.
Great series on all these fine ladies.
Thanks for all your hard work on this series! It was fantastic and informative. Way to focus on the women! As for Dolly…I love her. No argument here. :)
Obviously, Dolly Parton is an extremely talented artist but most people seem to think the thing that separates Dolly from the others is that she’s “done it all”. True, no doubt, but there’s a world of difference between “doing it all” and “doing it all well”.
The two things Dolly does extremely well are sing and write songs. She was no great shakes as an actress and the TV show was, at best, decent. As is often the case with artists who decide to “cross over” , the pop sludge she recorded in the 80s was a detour . Of course, Dolly does charity work – so do (or did) many of the artists on the list .
She is a great artist and I respect the tremendous amount of work Kevin has done in compiling this list, I do feel that greatness is measured on the things you do really well, not the peripheral things you also do. Unlike a lot of the performers on this list who were consistantly good, Dolly has been rather inconsistant. On that basis …
My personal nestalgic favorite is A Smokey Mountain Christmas. We’d gather around as kids and watch it on the Disney channel each year. Fun times. I didn’t even know Dolly was a country music singer then. Imagine my surprise when I finally got into country music and discovered that both Patsy and Dolly were revered country music artists.
I totally agree! Plus she is the most hits of any female in country music according to Billboard magazine. If you ask other females in the top ten and I would say they would agree with you, too. She routinely named as one of the biggest influences on the current crop of female singers in all genres.
NOBODY HAS DONE WHAT DOLLY HAS DONE!NOT EVEN CLOSE.I LOVE LORETTA AND TAMMY ALONG WITH OTHERS BUT DOLLY IS TO COUNTRY WHAT ARETHA FRANKLIN IS TO SOUL,WHAT MAHALIA JACKSON IS TO GOSPEL–UNDISPUTEDLY THE BEST.TO THINK SHE RECORDED HER FIRST RECORD IN 1955!HOW MANY OTHERS THAT STARTED AT THAT TIME ARE STILL RELEVANT OR HAVE BEEN HEARD FROM IN THE LAST 30 YEARS?ENOUGH SAID.
it should also be noted that dolly parton has been enjoying a huge popularity outside the usa – especially, here in europe. she’s one of the few country artists that would get invitations to big prime-time shows almost any time and everywhere over here. and trust me, there’s more than just one or two reasons for that.
Dolly is definitely a lot more recognizable to the masses over Loretta. Great ambassador. I had Loretta #1 but the argument for Dolly is an excellent one. I think it is very fit to have Dolly #1. Now the rest of the top ten and the questionable selection of those who made the top ten, and those major artists who did not, leaves a lot of room for error and argument.
It is about time someone recognizes that Dolly is the queen of country music. It seems they always put her third in the listing with Tammy and Loretta. Examine the record sales, the longevity, the music. I love Tammy and Loretta’s music, but Dolly embodies everything country music is. She believes in the children, the mountains and her home. Gald to see she is #1!!!
Totally agree, specially the last hing about Dolly having done it all well. Here in Europe, also, she is famous which not many of the others on the list are except for those who are interested in country music. Dolly Parton makes country music interesting for those who don’t really like it, and well-worth listening for those who like it. Another thing -she’s came from the mountains to Hollywood but never forgot who she is or where she came from. One word: Respect.
Kevin, I just recently discovered this website and have been going over the list of 100 great C&W ladies the last few days. For most part, I consider the list to be fairly logical and extremely interesting. However, I would have switched some of the rankings. For example, I would switched the rankings of Skeeter Davis and Rose Maddox. I love both ladies but I question how many people really remember Rose Maddox nowadays. I woiuld have ranked Skeeter at #31 and Rose Maddox at #44. I agree with every lady that you listed in the top ten but I would have changed the rankings. I would have listed Loretta at Number One while I would rank Dolly at Number Two. I also would have ranked the one and only Patsy Cline at number four while pushing Emmylou Harris back to number Nine thus moving Kitty Wells up to Number Seven.
In closing Kevin, I would like to ask why you didn’t include Susan Raye and Wilma Burgess on the list?! Just my opinion but I feel that Raye put out some of the best singles of the early 1970s especially “L.A. International Airport” as well as some of the most underrated albums of the 1970s. I feel Miss Raye was focusing more on her lps than she was given credit for? Wilma Burgess’s output in the mid 1960s was stellar. Her versions of “Baby”, “Misty Blue” “Tear Time” and “Don’t Touch Me’ were fantastic and deserve to be rated as undisputed country classics. I look forward to and thank you in advance for your reply.
Very deserved. She’d be my #1 choice as well.
Susan Raye had a very short stay in the charts and was regarded as a product of the Buck Owens machine with Hee-Haw being her biggest source of exposure. Her biggest selling record , her cover of David Frizzell’s earlier recording of “L.A. International Airport” , got significant pop air play but only made it to #9 in the charts. Three other records charted better but her fall off the charts was rapid. After “Whatcha Gonna Do With A Dog Like That” hit #9 in early 1975, she never again cracked the top 50 with her solo recordings , although a duet with Buck in late 1975 managed to crack the top 40
Wilma Burgess, was born in Orlando and attended my alma mater Stetson Univerity. She never received any traction is Nashville, and after her third single , “Misty Blue” never again het the top ten. Part of the problem was lack of promotional push from her label Decca which already had Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells cranking out hits.
She never married and there were rumors about her which may have contributed to her lack of acceptance.
I really wish someone would get Wilma Burgess out on CD (are you listening Collector Choice Music ?). There are two good Susan Raye CDs that you may be able to find (they overlap considerably, but both contain the biggest hits)
I would have put Dolly in my top 3. But alot of what you typed was “pop” and a majority of the reason she is who she is today is because of pop music. She went for money not integrity. She is an amazingly talented woman, but I would have put Loretta at #1
I was reading some reviews of Dolly’s concerts in the UK earlier and came across this little fact:”Dolly Parton … accompanied herself with an able touch on guitar, piano, violin, banjo, harmonica, dulcimer, tin whistle and tambourine.” Holy cow! Given that I’ve never seen Dolly perform live, I didn’t know she could play all those instruments. That’s just another thing to add to her long list of accomplishments.
You know, she’s funny too.
Dolly as a 62 solo female artist in what is a niche market outside of the US is selling out 20,000 plus seater venues across Europe right now. She has two albums in the UK mainstream pop charts simultaneously. She is held up a a country icon in Europe and has brought respect to country music from many who otherwise thought it irrelevant. Dolly has put country on the map, is multi talented, scarily intelligent, respectful of her roots, a phenomenal musician and song writer, and sings like an angel. I never understand why she should be criticised because she can successfully cross over to a number of musical genres – is that really a negative or an indication of her talents? She probably has the most diverse fan base of all country stars. Hats off to her, she deserves to be number 1, long may she rein.
Add to all of this: Broadway composer. The woman’s unstoppable.
my favourite dolly song is ” when I sing for Him”. it is soo beatiful. 40 years ago my daugher would croon to dolly harton and I will always love her. thank you dolly for bringing so much love into the world.
I have enjoyed reading your countdown of all these wonderful ladies in Country Music, I totally agree with your choice for #1
Dolly Parton is the embodiment (no pun intended) of not only Country Music, but what a true Superstar should be. She has been up and down, in and out, ridiculed and persecuted by the tabloids, fodder for late night talk show hosts, and through it all, she has shown nothing but style, class and humility. With her quit wit, self-deprecating humor,
Angelic-like voice, and phenomenal songwriting skills, DOLLY is the right choice.
Dolly is definitely number one! She is the most incredibly talented and gifted artist out there and I have loved her since I was a little girl. Dolly did not lose integrity by crossing over, she did it to widen her fan base and become a true superstar, and it worked! Did she make money in the process…absolutely, but money never changed her and she is still a very generous and loving and humble person, so she deserves NO criticism for having made a lot of money b/c she has done great things with her wealth and is very generous with it. Money didn’t change her, she still the same country girl!
I am so glad someone finally noticed what I have over the years. Dolly is without doubt the most multi talented person to come out of country music. I do not think that anyone will ever match her achievements. She is a true Super Star world wide.
There is nobody like Dolly.She is absolutely legendary but still that same little girl from my home state of Tennessee;no pretense at all.I think she recorded her first record as a child in 1955!And she’s still making hits whether radio play them or not.Dolly is simply the BEST.Also,she was robbed of the oscar by whomever,yet she was still proud of the Tenn. guys that won it-what CLASS she showed.
Dolly is #1 and for good reason. I have seen her live a few times as with some other country and pop artists. She clearly is the best entertainer with a voice like no other.
I’d take a bullet for Dolly…
I will just add this: think of a classic country artist who has stayed around for a long time and still is world wide popular There are a few: George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton basically they are the three who are still the best and dolly is just great
Help dolly get on the list on the poll at country weekly.com of the most beautiful women in country music she is indeed beautiful on teh inside and out. Thanks for your support.
I hear the Dolly Live from London DVD is just awesome. So if you are like me and haven’t picked it up yet go out and do so.
She’s certainly been putting out more albums than mostly anyone else. Plus “Coat of Many Colors” is a very much acclaimed album
she sings like an angel and writes music like nobody’s business…. I love Dolly, who doesn’t really, but nbr 1 depends on what the criteria is…….. I would love a poll, survey that is TALENT based ONLY… how well they sing, live performances, ability to play an instrument etc… and Dolly would place 2 nd behind Barbara Mandrell and right before the Carters,,,,,,,,
PLEASE someone do a TALENT based survey with criteria as I mentioned above…..
Talent can only be assessed by how it is applied. Barbara Mandrell is an impressive musician and live performer, and ranked high on this list. But she’s really not in the same league as Dolly Parton as a singer and songwriter, and her recorded work pales in comparison to Parton’s.
A reasonable case could be made for switching Loretta Lynn with Dolly Parton, but I can’t even make case for Mandrell being in the top ten, let alone #1.
Oooh, boy, Mandrell definitely is not a better singer than Parton.
Yea…Mandrell does not have anywhere near the vocal chops as Parton…nor the songwriting skill that has made Parton a legend.
I agree with Kevin, the only other reasonable #1 would be Loretta Lynn
We get it, Travis. You like Barbara Mandrell. This is the first time I’ve encountered the rare, Barbara Mandrell crazed superfan. I mean, I’ve heard rumors or their existence, but I never believed them to be true… until now.
Anyway, seeing this post in the recent comments again reminds me of my recent project… beefing up my iTunes library. I’ve been rounding out the collections of my three favorite artists: Reba, Dolly and the Dixie Chicks (and to a lesser extents some others – Martina McBride, Sara Evans, Tanya Tucker, Lorrie Morgan, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, etc.) with songs that I never bought the full albums for because I didn’t want to contribute shelf space for a CD that only had one or two good songs. For example, I’ve added the Dixie Chicks’ contributions to tribute albums (“Stand By Your Man”) and soundtracks (“You Can’t Hurry Love”).
When it came to Dolly, whose, discography (among other things), is so huge, it’s like I’m falling in love with her all over again. Songs like “Appalachian Memories”, her takes on “House of the Rising Sun” and “How Great Thou Art”, “Travelin’ Thru, “He’s Alive”, “Silver and Gold” and especially “What a Heartache” (of which she’s recorded three versions) are amazing! According to my list, I owned over 20 Dolly compilations and studio albums… and I was still missing out on so much. She is simply incredible.
Dolly was a great singer i was amaze every time a heard her voice.
Great call on the top three! I can’t see how anyone could feel Dolly, Loretta, and the Carters don’t belong there.
My own top 100
1. Dolly Parton 2. Loretta Lynn 3. Sara & Maybelle Carter 4. Tammy Wynette 5. Kitty Wells
6. Patsy Cline 7. Reba McEntire 8. Minnie Pearl 9. Shania Twain 10. Emmylou Harris
11. The Judds/Wynona 12. Tanya Tucker 13. Barbara Mandrell 14. Trisha Yearwood 15. The Dixie Chicks
16. Alison Krauss 17. Lynn Anderson 18. Cindy Walker 19. Faith Hill 20. Dottie West
21. Connie Smith 22. Cindy Walker 23. Mary Chapin Carpenter 24. Jean Shepard 25. Rosanne Cash
26. Crystal Gayle 27. Martina McBride 28. Skeeter Davis 29. Patty Loveless 30. Carrie Underwood
31. Anne Murray 32. Wanda Jackson 33. Lee Ann Womack 34. Donna Fargo 35. K T Oslin 36. June Carter Cash 37. Kathy Mattea 38, Olivia Newton-John 39. Lorrie Morgan 40. Lulu Belle
41. Patsy Montana 42. Linda Ronstadt 43. LeAnn Rimes 44. Patti Page* 45. Jeannie C. Riley 46. Brenda Lee 47. Pam Tillis 48. Maxine & Bonnie Brown* 49. Susan Raye* 50. Miranda Lambert
51. Rose Maddoz 52. Janie Fricke 53. Liz Anderson* 54. Cousin Emmy 55. Dale Evans 56. Jan Howard 57. Felice Bryant 58. Terri Clark 59. Jeannie Kendall (The Kendalls) 60. Lacy J. Dalton
61. Juice Newton 62. Aunt Molly Jackson 63. Jo Dee Messina 64. Anita Carter* 65. Sara Evans
66. Jeannie Seely 67. Billie Jo Spears 68. k.d. lang 69. Bobbie Gentry 70. Norma Jean
71. Carlene Carter 72. Rosalie Allen* 73. Rhonda Vincent 74. Suzy Bogguss 75. Sammi Smith 76. Holly Dunn 77. Jody Miller* 78. Gail Davies 79. Matraca Berg 80. Nanci Griffith
81. SHEdaisy 82. Melba Montgomery 83. Marie Osmond
84. Wilma Lee Cooper 85. Goldie Hill 86. Gretchen Wilson 87. Lucinda Williams 88. Bonnie Guitar
89. Sharon and Cheryl White (The Whites) 90. Margo Smith
91. Jessi Colter 92. Texas Ruby* 93. Paulette Carlson (Highway 101) 94. Deana Carter 95. Charly McClain 96. The Forester Sisters 97. Marijohn Wilkin 98. Sylvia 99. Jeanne Pruett 100. Roba Stanley
* = didn’t make countryuniverse’s top 100
Patti Page wasn’t a country singer, although she recorded a number of good country songs. She would be in my top five as far as female pop singers are concerned
Dolly would be nbr 1 in any book b/c she has holds more records on the chart than any other artiste. most top 10 singles, nbr 1 and top 40 by a female. Most top full album by any artiste and has charted records in 5 decades. So hands down she is #1 ask billboard.
Dolly could walk out on stage and talk all night without singing a song people would not leave. leave just steps on stage and the house lights up. She gave Reba some very good advice in 1977 and she said that very precious night at the Opry when the stage manager told her Dolly just walked in the back door and Dolly is going to sing she would have given up both her songs just to be in the same building with Dolly and that after Dolly did sing everyone could have left the Opry then and there as there was nothing that anyone else could have done that night that could top Dolly’s performance. Influential wise the list is endless: we have Reba, Womack, lovelace, Krauss, Vincent, Pickler, Twain Julie Roberts, Brad, Gill Cyrus we coudl go on forever and still don’t have a complete list as he is the super power in entertainment. She has remain a contemporary for more than 40 years. I don’t think anyone else has.
June 6, 2011 at 9:59 am
Dolly could walk out on stage and talk all night without singing a song people would not leave. She just steps on stage and the house lights up. She gave Reba some very good advice in 1977 and she said that very precious night at the Opry when the stage manager told her Dolly just walked in the back door and Dolly is going to sing she would have given up both her songs just to be in the same building with Dolly and that after Dolly did sing everyone could have left the Opry then and there as there was nothing that anyone else could have done that night that could top Dolly’s performance. Influential wise the list is endless: we have Reba, Womack, lovelace, Krauss, Vincent, Pickler, Twain Julie Roberts, Brad, Gill Cyrus we coudl go on forever and still don’t have a complete list as he is the super power in entertainment. She has remain a contemporary for more than 40 years. I don’t think anyone else has.
I’m in complete agreement with Dolly Parton’s ranking as #1. I’ve been a huge fan of hers ever since the release of “Jolene”, but even if I weren’t particularly a fan, when contemplating all that she encompasses, her top ranking would still make sense. She is, IMO, the most dizzingly talented women in counry music. As a songwriter, I’d rank her right up with Bob Dylan, just in terms of the sheer number of songs she’s written, and how effortlessly they seem to pour out of her. As a singer, her voice is like no one else’s who comes to mind. As an entertainer, her fame is parallel to that of the anyone to have emerged during the last five decades — including the Beatles and Elvis (she is known all over the world, even by persons who don’t know anything else about country music) — and from a historical perspecitve, she is like a bridge between the era of Kitty Wells and the modern era of Taylor Swift. It’s pretty astonishing to think that she emgerged during the mid-1960s, and is still a major force in 2011 (even despite her almost non-existent radio airplay). Of all of the women who rose to fame at the time Parton did, very few are still even recording and touring (Lynn Anderson and Loretta Lynn are the only other two who come to mind), and certainly not at the level that Parton is. And then, as others have also mentioned already, while there are countless other talented women who’ve emerged over the past fifty-odd years, no one has combined ALL of Parton’s many talents. There have been gifted, prolific songwriters (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash), talented singers (Patsy Cline, Trisha Yearwood), women who, through their lives and onstage personas, connected with their audiences (Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire), and true artistic vionaries (Emmylou Harris). But no one else comes to mind who combines all of these talents, or who’s been doing it for as long and as successfully as Dolly Parton has.
Dolly would be number 1 in any book because holds more records on the billboard charts than any other female artiste. She held at one point all of the following records (Most top 10 singles female, most Number 1 singles female, Most Top 40 female (113), most top 10 full albums by any artiste male or female (42 in total) and has charted records in 6 decades. So hands down she is #1 just ask billboard.
When it comes to being influential the list of younger singers that she has been influenced by her is endless: Reba McEntie, Lee Ann Womack, Patty Lovelace, Allison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, Kelly Pickler, Shawnia Twain, Julie Roberts, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Billy Ray Cyrus, Keith Urban, Mindy Smith, Sherrie Austin, Wynonna/Naomi Judd (Judds) Noah Jones, Nickel Creek Marie Osmond, Billy Dean, Carrie Underwood, Jessica Simpson and Pam Tillis to name a few. We could take the rest of the year to write names of people she has influenced and still comes up short as there are so many names to mention. Not to mention that she has also influence Reese Witherspoon, Naomi Watts, Felicity Hoffman and many more who are not singers.
When it comes to self-invention and staying relevant no other singer in any other musical genre has done that better than Dolly Parton. For some 47 years she has manage to remain a rare contemporary. If that is not enough she has charted across more decades and charts than almost any other singer. Dolly has put albums on the billboard chart in all of the decades she has worked in since the 1960’s and that is (1960’s to 2011’s) her latest charted work coming last year being placed at number 2 right behind Adele on the CD/DVD chart. She commands the respect of her pairs more than any other singer in any genre. To date she is the only person to have won Country Music Association Award in five (5) of the last Six 6 decades (1960’s, to 2000’s). She has also won Grammy in Four (4) of the six decades (1970’s to 2000’s).
Dolly’s song writing prose is matchless. She in my opinion has written a song that each person can individually relates to. She is now 67 years young (old) and still sells out audiences in place like Europe, Australia and other such places, charts well in those country sells better than any other international artiste in any genre. She was given a Gold selling disc last year. The question one should ask here is. Which other singer in any other field of music has been able to do that? Dolly has successfully managed to bridge the gap between being and international mega star and the girl next door all at the same time. She has the most loyal fan base and following that you can think of. Her fan base has young German girls being friends with, over twenty something male on Facebook. That friendship came about because of one common bond Dolly Parton’s music.
If we were to use charting positions to pick who is number one, she would be right at the top just the same. If we were to use talent, taking into consideration her vocal range and the number of instruments she plays; some twelve, she would be sitting pretty at number one. I think all the women on this list are just great I would have make some changes and put Kitty Wells, Crystal Gayle, Skeeter Davis, Jean Shepard and Dottie West in higher positions but still Dr Dolly Parton would reign supreme. I would not have put Marie Osmond and Olivia Newton-John on it although the latter made a very good country singer in the latter part of her career starting with Dolly’s Jolene.
My top ten list would be as follows:
1. Dolly Parton
2. Loretta Lynn
3. Crystal Gayle
4. Patsy Cline
5. Tammy Wynette… Reba McEntire
6. Skeeter Davis
7. Kitty Wells
8. Jean Shepard
9. Tanya Tucker
10. Dottie West