Although it is clear that Dolly Parton has never worked the traditional office 9 – 5, there is no doubt that she is an astute business woman.
This iconic global country music singer has made a successful career performing for more than five decades and growing her own brand as songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress and author.
The 72-year-old Tennessee-born star made her debut public performance singing in her local church at the age of six. By the time she was ten years old, she had a regular slot on the Cas Walker Show (for TV and Radio).
Where it all began
Born in a small town in the Smoky Mountains, Dolly was one of 12 children. Her mother Avie Lee would keep the children entertained, singing songs and telling stories of mountain folklore. Inheriting her mother’s love of music, in 1951, aged five, Dolly wrote her first song, which was called Little Tiny Tassle Top.
Despite having no money, Dolly was resourceful, making herself a unique guitar out of an old mandolin and two bass guitar strings and teaching herself to play and sing. This led to her first appearance on the Cas Walker Show in 1956.
A rising star
Dolly rose from her humble upbringing to be the most honoured female country music star in history. Although her first record, Puppy Love, on Goldband Records in 1959, wasn’t a massive success, it was pivotal in launching her career at the tender age of 13!
In the same year, she was performing live and being introduced on stage by Johnny Cash at the Grand Old Opry, performing You Gotta Be My Baby, in which she received three encores.
This early fame didn’t stop Parton from completing school, and upon graduating at 18 (1964), she followed the path of many country singers and moved to Nashville, where she began writing hit singles for other artists, such as Hank Williams Jnr.
She went onto achieve success as a recording artist, releasing her debut album in 1967, ‘Hello, I’m Dolly’, which peaked at number 11 in the US Billboard Top Country Albums.
During her career to date, she has won 25 Recording Industry Association of America platinum, gold and multi-platinum awards, has had 41 top ten country albums, 25 number one singles on the Billboard country music chart (a record for a female vocalist) and 110 chart singles.
Female Working Conditions
Dolly wrote her signature tune, 9 to 5 for the 1980 comedy film of the same name. It reached number one in the US Billboard Top 100 and charted in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and across Europe.
Describing the working day, the lyrics depict the life of the office workers in the film, who were played by Dolly, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
The movie and the song were based on a real organisation founded in America in 1973 called Nine to Five, which was aimed at improving women’s working conditions.
Nine to Five founder, Karen Nussbaum, was motivated to support other female workers after her experience as a casual clerk-typist at Harvard’s School of Education in Boston, earning $2 an hour.
Being a casual worker, she had no rights, such as benefits and holiday leave, and what she described as the “day-to-day indignities” grated on her nerves. She recalled visitors to the office saying, “Isn’t anyone here?” when they entered the all-female typing pool and found no men present.
She felt this was a call to action and launched the pressure and support group, Nine to Five, for the millions of female office workers who were in the same situation. The organisation became known as the Women’s Bureau and Nussbaum, now 68, served as its director until 1993. She is now the executive director of Working America.
The record is perhaps the only Billboard chart song to feature the clacking of a manual typewriter. It was Parton’s idea, as she said when she was writing the song, she devised the click-clacking typewriter rhythm by tapping her long, acrylic fingernails against each other.
As well as being a world-class singer and songwriter, Parton also plays several instruments, including electric guitar, fiddle, banjo, dulcimer, autoharp and piano. She’s an accomplished author, having written numerous books, including Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business and Dream More.
She’s a savvy businesswoman, having built an empire around her musical talents and country charm, including opening her theme park, Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in 1985, which now attracts 2.5 million visitors annually.
As a celebrated philanthropist, she supports many worthy causes through her Dollywood Foundation. She supports literacy, as her own father couldn’t read or write, but she described him as “one of the smartest men” she had ever known. Her foundation sends 12 books per year to each child who has been enrolled, until they enter kindergarten.
She also supports the American Red Cross, HIV and AIDS-related charities and animal charity PETA. She has personally donated $500,000 towards the building of a new hospital and cancer centre in Sevierville in the name of the doctor who delivered her, Dr Robert Thomas.
Dolly’s latest musical venture is to team up with the vocalist Sia on a new single, Here I Am, which will feature on the soundtrack of the latest Jennifer Aniston film, Dumplin’, about a plus-size young woman who enters a beauty pageant.
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