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Celebrate the “Year of Dolly” in Sevierville, Tennessee

Celebrate the “Year of Dolly” in Sevierville, Tennessee

Visit Dolly Parton’s hometown in the Smoky Mountains, where country is always in style.

By Hope S. Philbrick

Among the many picturesque stops in Sevier County, Tennessee is one must-see: The bronze statue of Dolly Parton on the Sevier County Courthouse lawn in historic downtown Sevierville. A tribute to the superstar by her hometown community, it’s the perfect place to snap a selfie since it’s the only place on earth you’re guaranteed to get close to the living legend.

Crafted by nationally-known local artist Jim Gray, the six-and-a-half-foot tall sculpture shows Dolly fresh faced with a loose ponytail, sitting barefoot on a mountain boulder with her guitar. It captures Dolly’s love of the Smoky Mountains and surrounding community while also celebrating her joyful spirit. Dolly ranks the work as one of her most-prized recognitions and has said, “One of the best things that ever happened to me in my whole career is the statue of me in the Courthouse yard in Sevierville.”

You can learn more about the statue at the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the artwork with a special exhibit, 30: Celebrating Dolly in Bronze, which will be on display through the end of the year. Works showcased include a wax-over-metal maquette of the statue made by Gray to use as a proposal, the autographed stool on which Parton posed for the statue, a bronze study for the statue, and several other items used by the artist to create the monument.

Since it was unveiled 30 years ago, the statue has attracted millions of visitors from all over the world. Dolly’s image lives in photo collections worldwide. Add her to yours.

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Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home

Today Dolly Parton is renowned as a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, actress, author, businesswoman and philanthropist—she’s a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the most honored female country performer of all time. But as depicted in the NBC television movie “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,” which first aired in 2015, Dolly’s beginnings were humble.

The fourth of 12 children, Dolly grew up in a one-room cabin in Sevierville. Her earliest public performances were at church and then at Cas Walker’s Grocery Store, a building that still stands on the Parkway. She attended Sevier County High School, played drums in the marching band, and after graduating in 1964 moved to Nashville to pursue her dreams. Dolly’s success is the realization of a Tennessee mountain girl’s American dream to make it as a big star.

But she never forgets her roots.

Dolly’s Hometown Attractions

Dolly Parton has opened four family-friendly venues that not only help keep local folks employed, they showcase the Great Smoky Mountain communities of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, plus celebrate Americana.

The 150-acre Dollywood theme park boasts more than 40 rides and also offers live entertainment from musical performances to demonstrations by master artisans, alongside restaurants, festivals and other special events. Dolly’s Dixie Stampede dinner show, now in its 30th anniversary season, stages a friendly rivalry between the North and South with over 30 horses, ostriches, pigs and impressive stunts. Dollywood’s Splash Country is a 35-acre park wet adventure with water slides, a lazy river and wave pool; it’s open late May through early September each year. Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure dinner show, which launched in 2016, features incredible acts of strength, agility and aerobatics.

Dolly has shared her love of music and entertainment by creating these four attractions now nestled among the shopping, museums, restaurants and natural appeal at the heart of Sevier County. But Dolly’s heart is the most revealing thing about her.

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Dolly Parton's Generous Spirit

Dolly’s Generous Spirit

“The thing that really amazes me about Dolly Parton is that she didn’t wait until she got really wealthy to give back to the County,” said Bryan Atchley, mayor of the City of Sevierville, during the grand opening reception for 30: Celebrating Dolly in Bronze. “As soon as she could, she gave back. That’s amazing.”

Dolly Parton has served as honorary chair of the Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation. In addition, Sevierville’s award-winning LeConte Medical Center is the proud home of the Dolly Parton Center for Women’s Services and the Dolly Parton Birthing Unit.

In 1996 Dolly introduced her Imagination Library, which supports childhood literacy by gifting a new book to every child under age five in participating communities around the world. The Library, which launched in Sevier County and now serves more than 1,600 communities, has gifted more than 100 million books. Each enrolled child receives a library of 60 books before entering kindergarten.

After devastating forest fires in 2016, Dolly launched the My People Fund which provides $1,000 each month for up to six months to Sevier County families who lost their homes in the wildfires. “Within a month Dolly provided relief for her people,” said Gary Wade, retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice and former Sevierville Mayor at the grand opening reception for 30: Celebrating Dolly in Bronze. “She’s been a local treasure, a community treasure, a state treasure, and a national treasure. In fact I think today it’s fair to say we can call her the patron saint of her Tennessee Mountain home.”

“She loves her community and her community loves her,” said Brenda McCroskey, chief executive officer of the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce during the grand opening reception for 30: Celebrating Dolly in Bronze.

A Year of Dolly

Throughout 2017, Sevier County will be hosting special events to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Dolly Parton statue as well as offer thanks for her ongoing kindness and generosity.

Dolly’s Homecoming Parade, set for Friday, May 5, will begin in Pigeon Forge with Dolly leading the procession. On Saturday, May 6 head to historic downtown Sevierville for a free outdoor showing of “9 to 5,” the classic 1980 comedy movie starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

On April 20 and June 15, aspiring artists can sign up for a Tino & Vino event at Courthouse Donuts. The fun hands-on class, led by renowned local artist Robert Tino, will feature Dolly inspired art.

In September and October head to Courthouse Donuts for tasty treats and a special exhibition of art by Sevier County children inspired by Dolly’s life and her Imagination Library program.

The Mountain Soul Vocal Competition, Sevier County’s version of American Idol, invites competitors to sing one of the more than 3,000 songs written by Dolly for a chance to win cash and prizes. Compete for your chance to start a music career in Dolly’s hometown or cheer on those who hope to follow in her footsteps. The entry deadline is April 7 and the final round takes place in historic downtown Sevierville on May 20.

And, of course, the special exhibit 30: Celebrating Dolly in Bronze will be on display at the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center all year. An interactive feature of the exhibit invites you to snap a selfie posed on a mountain boulder like the one used in the Dolly statue.

With its generous spirit and hometown love, it’s easy to picture yourself in Sevierville.

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