Sevierville is well known for many different things. The shopping capital of East Tennessee,
Sevierville borders the most visited National Park in the United States, Great Smoky Mountains
National Park, and is home to theatrical productions, attractions and restaurants that run along
the parkway making Sevierville a tourist mecca.
But Sevierville is also home to internationally known singer, songwriter and entertainer Dolly Parton. Dolly
grew up in Sevierville, the fourth of 12 siblings. She knew at a young age that she wanted to sing and
entertain for a living. By the age of 6, Dolly was singing live at WIVK radio station in nearby Knoxville,
Tennessee. She was also making weekly appearances at Cas Walker’s Grocery Store, which still stands today
and now houses Goodwill Industries on the Parkway in Sevierville. Dolly attended Sevier County High School
and played drums in the marching band. After graduating in 1964, Dolly packed her music career hopes and
dreams and moved to Nashville to become a star.
Appreciation for Dolly can be seen throughout Sevierville and Sevier County. Dolly Parton
Parkway is a major thoroughfare in Sevierville and one of the most beloved statues in
Sevierville is the Dolly Parton statue on the courthouse lawn. The statue, sculpted by
local artist Jim Gray and unveiled by Dolly herself on May 2, 1987, features a young Dolly
barefoot strumming a guitar. Dolly proclaimed the dedication of the statue as her proudest
moment in a recent CMT Special.
Today, Dolly has written more than 3,000 songs, many of which are number one hits. Dolly has 25 number one
country singles , 55 Top 10 country hits, 8 Top 40 pop hits, 26 gold and platinum record awards, 7 Grammy
Awards (and 44 nominations), 11 CMA Awards, 2 Oscar nominations (Best Song), 5 Golden Globe nominations (3
for acting), an Emmy nomination and more than 100 million records sold.
In 1986, Dolly wanted to do something for the folks in her Tennessee mountain home. Partnering with Herschend Family Entertainment, Dolly opened her
Dollywood family theme park in nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This 150 acre park has grown adding new rides, shows, restaurants and festivals in the past 25 years.
Only two years after Dollywood opened, Dolly cut the ribbon on her Dixie Stampede dinner attraction, also located in Pigeon Forge. This dinner and show proved so popular that additional Dixie Stampede attractions were also opened in Myrtle Beach, SC and Branson, MO. The show features a friendly rivalry between the North and South with 32 magnificent horses plus ostriches, pigs, a herd of authentic Texas longhorns and, new for 2010, a lumberjack competition called Rumble in the Treetops.
In 2001, Dolly opened the third of her Dollywood companies in Sevier County. Dollywood’s Splash Country instantly received “splashing” reviews with kids and parents alike. This 35 acre park, filled with slides, a lazy river and wave pool, is open late May through early September each year.
Considering Dolly’s international fame, it’s no wonder why Dollywood continues to be a hot spot for celebrity sightings. Brett Favre, Martina McBride, Melissa Etheridge, Rose McGowan, Robert Rodriguez and Jodi Foster have all been reported as having made visits to Dolly’s theme park in recent years. Even pop music star, Katy Perry tweeted about her “country bumpin’ time” at Dollywood.
Education and imagination are cornerstones of success. In 1996, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee, Sevier County. Dolly wanted to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families. She wanted children to be excited about books and feel the magic they can create. Moreover, she wanted to ensure that every child would have books regardless of their family’s income.
With the introduction of Dolly’s Imagination Library, Dolly began mailing a brand new, age appropriate book each month to every child under the age of five in Sevier County. With the arrival of every child’s first book, the classic “The Little Engine That Could” TM, every child could experience the joy of finding their very own book in their mailbox. By the time each participating child entered Kindergarten, he or she had a 60-volume library of books. The last book of the collection, “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come,” prepared them for school.
Needless to say, the program has been a success. So much so that many other communities clamored to provide the Imagination Library to their children. Dolly thought long and hard about it and decided to help develop a way for other communities to participate. With Penguin Group USA as the exclusive publisher for the Imagination Library, the program is now replicated in 1,200 communities throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
Dolly has also been a major supporter of health care in Sevier County. She is the honorary chairperson of The Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation, named for the doctor who delivered Dolly and helped establish adequate healthcare facilities in Sevier County.