Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (D.P.I.L.) is the signature program of The Dollywood Foundation. In 1996, the country music singer-songwriter-actress-philanthropist Dolly Parton started the program in her own home county.
The Dollywood Foundation gave a book a month to tots until they reached kindergarten. That first year, they gave away 29,058 books.
In 2012, the Imagination Library and all of its local sponsors distributed 7,650,000 books and pushed the total given away since inception to over 45,000,000. With the help of local sponsors (called Local Champions), the DPIL gives books away in about 1,400 communities across the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Born in 1946, Dolly Parton grew up “dirt poor” in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, the fourth of twelve children. This was the land of the Great Smokey Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains.
She has talked about how her father Robert Lee Parton was proud of children calling her “the Book Lady.” He was an intelligent man who never learned to read and write.
In 1959, at age of twelve, Dolly Parton appeared on TV for the first time, on a station in Knoxville, Tennessee. The next year, she recorded her first single, with a minor label, and made her debut at the Grand Old Opry at age thirteen.
She graduated from high school in 1967 and moved to Nashville. Her first day there, she met and married Carl Thomas Dean, whom she married on May 30, 1966.
They are still married. He is a businessman who shuns publicity.
She had an allergic reaction to birth control pills when she was younger. Although they have no children, they raised several of her younger siblings.
She wrote hit songs for Skeeter Davis and Hank Williams, Jr. In 1965, she signed as a pop singer with Monumental Records.
This foray into pop music did not meet with much success, with only one hit single, “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby.” However, after Monumental allowed her to switch to the country music genre, she had several hit singles.
In 1967, Monumental released her debut album, “Hello, “I’m Dolly,” and Porter Wagoner (1927-2007) invited her to join his syndicated television program, The Porter Wagoner Show (1960-1981). Their duet “The Last Thing on My Mind,” became their first single.
It was a top-ten single on the country charts. She stayed on the show for seven years.
Her single “Joshua,” recorded in 1970, became a #1 hit. She continued to record duets with Wagoner before she launched a solo career in 1974.
It was in that year that her song “I Will Always Love You” became a #1 hit on the country music charts in the U.S. and #4 in Canada. She re-recorded it for a film she acted in, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), and the second version was also a #1 hit on the country charts in the U.S., as well as #53 on Billboard’s Top 100 (in the U.S.), a top-ten hit on three different Canadian charts, and a #72 hit in Australia.
Linda Ronstadt recorded the song for her album Prisoner in Disguise, released in 1975. Whitney Houston (1963-2012) recorded it for yet a fourth time for the soundtrack of the first film she acted in, The Bodyguard (1992). It was a #1 hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart for fourteen weeks, a #1 hit on Billboard’s Top 100 Airplay list for eleven weeks, a #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot Adult Contemporary chart for five weeks, and a #1 hit on the Billboard’s Hot R&B Singles chart for eleven weeks. The single was also a #1 hit in the U.K. for ten weeks, a #1 hit in Australia for ten weeks, and a #1 hit in New Zealand for eleven weeks, as well as a #1 hit in several other European countries as well.
By 2009, Whitney Houston’s version sold 4,591,000 copies in the U.S. Over 1,550,000 copies sold in the U.K.
Ms. Parton recorded it for a third time (the fifth time the song was recorded overall) with Vince Gill and in 1995 “I Will Always Love You” was a #15 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in the U.S. and a #22 hit the Canadian Country Tracks chart.
Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé Knowles have both sung the song live in tribute to Whitney Houston. LeAnn Rimes recorded the song for Unchained Melody: The Early Years, released in 1997.
Leona Lewis, who won the third season of the British talent show The X Factor, sang it on The X Factor. Jessica Sanchez, the runner-up on the eleventh season of American Idol, sang the song twice on that show. Dolly Parton has earned millions of dollars from this song alone.
Ms. Parton won Country Music Association (CMA) awards in 1968, 1970, 1971, ‘75, and ’76. The eponymous song on her album Here You Come Again, released in 1977 became her first top-ten hit on the pop charts and garnered Ms. Parton her first Best Female Country Vocal Performance.For one season, she hosted a variety show, Dolly (1976-77). Her silver screen debut was as Doralee Rhodes in the workplace comedy 9 to 5 (1980) with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman.
The theme song she recorded, “9 to 5,” garnered her two Grammy awards for Best Country Song and for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Ms. Parton’s younger sister, Rachel Dennison, played Doaralee Rhodes in the television adaptation 9 to 5 (1982-83 and 1986-88), which aired on ABC for two seasons and a truncated third season and in first-run syndication for two seasons.
She co-starred in musical comedies The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas with Burt Reynolds and Rhinestone (1984) with Sylvester Stallone. Between the two films, in 1983, she had another single in a duet with Kenny Rogers, “Islands in the Stream.”
In 1986, she transformed a Silver Dollar City amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee into Dollywood. This was the beginning of a partnership with the Silver Dollar City Corporation, a privately-held company that owns, operates, and manages theme parks. In 2003, the Silver Dollar City Corporation changed its name to the Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation (HFE), reflecting the surname of the family that owns it and their commitment to family-friendly entertainment.
With HFE, Dolly Parton co-owns The Dollywood Company, which operates Dollywood and two adjacent attractions - Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Adventure Park, which opened in 2001, and the dinner theater Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, which opened in 1988. Although there are Dixie Stampedes in other cities, most Dollywood businesses are in Pigeon Forge.
With her former manager, Sandy Gallin, she also owns Sandollar Productions, a movie and television production company. The company produced Father of the Bride (1991), Shining Through (1992), A Stranger Among Us (1992), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), Father of the Bride II (1995) and Sabrina (1995). With Joss Whedon’s production company Mutant Enemy, Sandollar Television produced Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and its spin-off Angel (1999-2004).
She had another collaborative success, this time with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, with the album Trio, released in 1987. It won a Grammy Award. Her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business was published in 1994.
Alison Krauss and Patty Loveless joined her when she returned to the bluegrass music of her youth in The Grass is Blue, released in 1998. This album won her two more Grammy awards.
In 2000, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Six years later, she was one of five celebrities feted for lifetime achievement at the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors.
In 2009, The Dollywood Corporation stared Dollywood Vacations, a firm that helps customers plan vacations in the Smokey Mountains by renting out cabins, selling tickets to Dollywood, etc. The next year, Dollywood celebrated its 25th anniversary and won an Applause Award, which is the highest award in the amusement park field.
Her album Better Day, released in 2011, performed respectably on the country music charts. Her book Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You was published last year.