Sevierville is the hometown of 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 a portion of First Baptist Church on the Parkway in Sevierville.
Dolly’s first paying gig was performing at The Pines Theater in downtown Sevierville. Today the building has been reimagined as The Pines Downtown, a family-friendly entertainment venue with food and drink, plus duckpin bowling, retro games, and event space.
As a lifelong musician, 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.
Many decades later, Dolly is still at the top of her game. Her headline performance at England’s Glastonbury Festival drove the crowds wild and the first of several NBC movies based on her life and songs, Coat of Many Colors, shattered network television viewing records. Today Dolly continues to expand her influence with a Netflix series, a fashion, jewelry, accessories, and housewares brand, new music, new musicals, and…did we mention new attractions?! Dolly stays busy professionally, and on a personal note, she and her husband Carl Dean have been married nearly sixty years
During her prolific career, Dolly has written more than 3,000 songs, many of which are number one hits. She also 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. But no matter how much she achieves, Dolly always makes sure she gives back.
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 grows each year adding new rides, shows, restaurants and festivals.
Only two years after Dollywood opened, Dolly cut the ribbon on her Dolly Parton's Stampede dinner attraction, also located in Pigeon Forge. The show features a friendly rivalry between the North and South with 32 magnificent horses plus ostriches, pigs, and amazing stunts! In 2001, Dolly opened the third of her Dollywood companies in Sevier County, Dollywood’s Splash Country. This 35 acre park, filled with slides, a lazy river and wave pool, is open late May through early September each year. Most recently, she added Pirate’s Voyage dinner show to her collection of quality family fun attractions in the area.
Considering Dolly’s international fame, it’s no wonder 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 communities throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia, the Republic of Ireland, 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. This organization helps expand the range and quality of health care services available by helping Sevier County meet the continuing challenges of the rapidly changing healthcare field. Today, 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.
With all that Dolly has done for her hometown, it was only fitting that her hometown do something to honor her. In 1987, a bronze statue of Dolly Parton was unveiled on the Sevier County Courthouse lawn. Sculpted by local artist Jim Gray, the statue depicts a youthful Dolly happily strumming a guitar while sitting on a rock. Over the past thirty-plus years hundreds of thousands of visitors have made their way to the statue for a photo. Dolly herself says the statue is one of the tributes she is proudest of – because it made her daddy so proud.