Tonight, April 12, A&E is airing a documentary titled Biography: Dolly, which takes a look at Dolly Parton’s life from childhood until now. Parton’s parents were influential in her decision to pursue music and were her biggest supporters while growing up.
Parton was born on January 19, 1946 in a one-room cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee to parents Avie Lee Caroline and Robert Lee Parton Sr. Her father worked as a sharecropper before later tending his own small tobacco farm, and her mother, Parton has said, was great with business and making a profit.
Parton was performing as a child, singing on radio and TV in the East Tennessee area, and she was recording on a record label by the age of 13. After graduating high school, Parton moved to Nashville the next day where she found success as a songwriter and later as a musician and actress. She used some of her fortune as a way to give back to her parents who had often struggled to make ends meet.
Here’s what you should know about Parton’s parents:
1. Parton’s Mother is Often Credited as Her First Musical Influence
Parton’s mother was a homemaker who supported her family by canning food and caring for their medical needs. According to Parton’s website, she had a way of knowing when her children needed extra attention, and she knew how to make them feel special.
Parton wrote the song “Coat of Many Colors” about Avie Lee sewing her daughter a patchwork coat when they couldn’t afford anything else. The first song Parton ever wrote, “Little Tiny Tassletop,” was about her mother’s gift of a handcrafted doll she gave to her daughter.
The song was written at an early age when Dolly couldn’t read or write, and her mom penned the song for her and later gave it to Dolly.
2. Parton’s Parents Raised 12 Children
Parton was the fourth of 12 children raised by her parents. They had a total of six boys and six girls, and they raised them in a small home in rural Tennessee.
Parton’s siblings are Willadeene, David Wilburn, Coy Denver, Bobby Lee, Stella Mae, Cassie Nan, Randel Huston, Larry Gerald, Estel Floyd and twins Freida Estelle and Rachel Ann. Larry passed away just four days after his birth in 1955.
Music runs in the family for the Parton siblings. Stella is a singer and actress who appeared in Dolly’s 2015 movie Coat of Many Colors. Cassie and Frieda are also singers. Willadeene has authored two books about their life, and Rachel is an actress and singer. Randy and Floyd are musicians who have written songs for Dolly’s movies.
The three siblings that chose to keep away from music and show business are David, Coy and Robert Lee Parton Jr.
3. Her Mother, Avie Lee Caroline, Passed Away in 2003
In 2003, Parton’s mother passed away in Sevierville, Tennessee. She was 80 years old at the time.
Parton later revealed she had been having issues performing her song “Coat of Many Colors” since her mother’s death.
“When she passed away I could not sing that song for probably three to six months without crying when I was singing it,” she said. “Seriously, I could not sing that song without thinking of everything my momma had ever done to make us all feel loved.”
The movie of the same name had a private viewing before anything else because Parton knew she would be an “emotional wreck” when watching it for the first time.
“We just cried our eyes out,” Parton said. “When we got out of the car and walking up the steps we were thinking, ‘We’re going in here to watch ourselves, watch our family, mom and daddy.’“
4. Parton’s Father, Robert Lee Parton Sr., Passed Away in 2000
Parton’s father passed away in 2000 at the age of 79 at the Baptist Hospital of East Tennessee in Knoxville. He died of complications from one or more strokes he’d suffered in the weeks leading up to his passing.
After his passing, Parton opened up about a story of her father that she hadn’t talked about before. Parton’s father loved her so much he had a “Dolly Parton for President” bumper sticker, but he also took care of Dolly that was put up in her hometown of Sevier County, Tennessee.
“After my dad died, one of my brothers told me that daddy used to put a big bucket, a big oil drum, of soapy water and a broom in the back of his truck and late at night he’d go down to the statue and scrub all the pigeon poop off [the statue],” Parton said. “It touched me. I cried my eyes out.”
5. Parton Splurged on Christmas Gifts for Her Parents
After she made it big, Parton wanted to give back to her parents, and she decided to splurge on gifts for them, she told Billboard.
“It was always my wish to do something great for my family. I loved my daddy and my mama. My daddy always drove a truck. I bought my daddy a big blue truck, and he was always so proud of that,” Parton recalled. “He never would trade it in. He kept it. The truck is still very much in the family today. Daddy’s gone now, but I still have the truck. It’s on some of the property that I bought that daddy used to own.”
She said she didn’t drive the truck, but her nieces and nephews were able to play on and around it when they visited. She also upgraded her mom’s Cadillac every few years, and after her mother’s passing, she and her husband kept the car, driving it every now and then.
“Because it was Mama’s car, and I still drive it some, I call it the ‘Dolly-Mama.’ Everybody knows not to mess with the Dolly-Mama, because that was such a precious thing,” she said. “I was always proud that I could do for my family when I started making some money.”
Biography: Dolly airs tonight, April 12, 2020 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on A&E.