“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”Dolly Parton
She’s as poetic as she is spiritual. She’s as wise as she is inspirational. She’s self-made and business-savvy in an unforgiving industry, and an exceptional feminine role model. She’s unabashedly flamboyant in both fashion and beauty, yet she’s as authentic as it gets. It’s no wonder Dolly Parton is so widely beloved! The public’s adoration for Dolly goes beyond a cult following when it spans generations, genre preferences, and even nationalities.
So who is this human wonder of the world? How is she relevant to the Smokies? Let’s break it down with a short vignette on Dolly Parton’s origins and accomplishments. After that, we’ll point you in the direction of the best Dolly Parton attractions in the Smokies!
Who Is Dolly Parton?
“As a child, I was always around music, and all of my people played fiddles, mandolins, banjos and guitars. So every kid in my family was used to having those just laying around. I was especially in love with the banjo….”
Born on January 19, 1946, into a poor farming family, Dolly Parton’s childhood home in Locust Ridge was no more than a one-bedroom cabin and home to 12 children in total. Though she came from humble beginnings, her musical influences were rich. Her musical education consisted of performances at church and hearing her mother play traditional Smoky Mountain tunes.
At age eight, her uncle bought her a guitar. By age thirteen, Dolly was appearing on television, radio, and stages across Eastern Tennessee. Upon high school graduation, she moved to Nashville to build a career as a songwriter with her uncle’s help. She had worked for several different labels as a child but didn’t get her big break until 1967. She was invited to replace Norma Jean on The Porter Wagoner Show. The Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner duet quickly became an audience favorite. This led to her signing with RCA Records, touring and selling records while performing on the show for seven years.
“You need to really believe in what you’ve got to offer, what your talent is — and if you believe, that gives you strength.”
The 1970s were a productive decade of musical creativity for Dolly. Her first #1 country hit came with the song Joshua in 1971. Following soon after were Jolene and I Will Always Love You, both of which eventually went on to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The year 1977 marked her first Grammy Award for the studio album Here You Come Again, which hit Top 20 on the Billboard 200. For the latter portion of the 1970s into the 1980s, Dolly began focusing on crossing over into pop with her first solo-produced studio album, New Harvest…First Gathering.
The 1980s brought her to mainstream fame when she starred alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in her debut film, 9 to 5. Subsequent films such as The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Rhinestone (1984), and Steel Magnolias (1989) shot her even higher into stardom. In the 1990s, Dolly continued working on 15 more movies plus studio albums, the most notable of which were Eagle When She Flies, Slow Dancing With The Moon, and Trio II.
Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Dolly’s music continued hitting top positions in the charts. Her career led her to collaborations with artists of all backgrounds, from Billy Ray Cyrus and Brad Paisley to Kesha, Queen Latifah, and Norah Jones. She currently holds 11 Grammy Awards, 13 Country Music Association Awards, 4 Billboard Awards, and 3 People’s Choice Awards. With over 100 million records sold today, her career has blazed the trail for other women in country music.
Businesswoman & Philanthropist
“You know, I look like a woman but I think like a man. And in this world of business, that has helped me a lot. Because by the time they think that I don’t know what’s goin’ on, I then got the money, and am gone.”
Dolly Parton was never meant to be a one-trick pony. Not only is she a talented musical performer, but also a shrewd businesswoman and bighearted philanthropist. In 1986, she invested a chunk of her earnings in developing the Pigeon Forge amusement park, Dollywood. Dollywood now sees over 3 million visitors each year, boosting the local economy of her once-poor hometown. Aside from the amusement park, the Dollywood Company also owns and operates several dinner theaters, a hotel, and the water park Dollywood Splash Country.
Always one to give back, Dolly’s philanthropic efforts have also not gone unnoticed. After the 2016 wildfires in Tennessee, she donated a monthly stipend of $1000 to affected families in Sevier County. When the coronavirus hit, she made a $1 million donation to the research of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Plus, she helped cure our boredom during the lockdown by releasing 93 classic and modern songs on streaming platforms. She has also funded numerous scholarships and hospitals and spoken to advocate for LGBTQ rights. Most notably, her literacy program, Imagination Library, has donated over 100 million books to children globally.
Dolly Parton Attractions
Dolly Parton Childhood Home in Locust Ridge
Aside from the amusement park rides, dinner theaters, and outdoor activities, a considerable part of the Smokies’ intrigue lies in the fact that it is Dolly Parton’s childhood home. Her tin-roofed home still stands today in Locust Ridge, Tennessee. While it is possible to find her Locust Ridge cabin using GPS, the road is gated, and the property is off-limits to visitors. However, it’s worth seeing the same solitary Appalachian cabin from the My Tennessee Mountain Home album cover.
Though it isn’t the original from Locust Ridge, there is also a close replica of the Dolly Parton childhood home at Dollywood. Visitors are welcome to explore the interior, where many of the objects featured are “original family treasures.”
If you’re venturing to Pigeon Forge to catch sight of the Smoky Mountain Songbird herself, Dollywood is your best bet. Dolly Parton visits the amusement park several times a year, especially for major events. Even if you don’t spot the country legend, you’re still in for a fun-filled afternoon! Dollywood is home to over 50 thrilling roller coasters and amusement rides, plus shopping and crafts, dining experiences, and seasonal festivals. Besides, there are always live bluegrass and country musical performances to catch on the stages at Dollywood!
Pigeon Forge is known for its dinner theater scene, but Dolly Parton’s Stampede sets a high bar. Inside a 35,000-square-foot arena, 32 stellar horses coordinate with humans to perform jaw-dropping stunts in a friendly competition. The spectacle is set to stunning special effects, pyrotechnics, lighting, and music, including one of Dolly’s original works. Come by early enough to explore the Horse Walk and meet the stars of the show (plus Nugget the chicken), or wind down at the saloon over a drink and game of checkers. But save some room for your four-course feast of delicious, Southern home-cookin’!
If you have imaginative kids, you can’t miss Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show, another show in which Dolly’s business has a hand. Enter the theater, and you’ll see a 15-foot-deep lagoon with two full-sized pirate ships on either side. Take your seats, and settle in for a dinner of creamy veggie soup, pan-fried chicken, sugar-cured ham, corn on the cob, herb-basted potato, and peach turnover. Meanwhile, the curtains draw back to reveal the swashbuckling Crimson and Sapphire crews. Captain Blackbeard and Quartermaster Calico Jack lead their crews to perform incredible acrobatic stunts, meet beautiful mermaids and tropical birds, and sword fight for the long-lost Davy Jones’ treasure.
If there is one thing that everyone agrees on, it’s the fact that Dolly Parton is a real-life angel. As a multi-award-winning feminine icon with a seat in the Country Music Hall of Fame, she’s an inspiration to women and songwriters all over the world. Her bright, soulful voice rings like a church bell over a mountain ridge, delivering lyrics that sometimes haunt and sometimes soothe. Her music career aside, her charitable contributions alone have positively impacted countless lives.
Dolly Parton’s profound influence spans the globe, but you won’t find it more concentrated than in her very own Smoky Mountain birthplace. Whether you’re a diehard Dolly fan or you’re new to her genius, Dolly Parton attractions in Pigeon Forge – like the dinner theaters and amusement rides – will keep you entertained all vacation long. Besides, if you add her to your Smoky Mountain vacation playlist, she’ll have you tapping your toes and singing along:
“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene! I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man….”
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