Young Dolly Parton grew up in a one-room cabin with her family of 14 and bathed in the nearby river.

Dolly Parton grew up in a shack with 11 siblings and faced difficulties, including limited access to regular baths. Her father, although illiterate, provided support to her and their family.

Despite achieving fame and fortune, Dolly Parton has retained her humility throughout her successful career as a musician, businesswoman, and philanthropist. Her journey from a challenging upbringing has given her a deep understanding of poverty, and she has become a significant figure in Hollywood. Despite her considerable accomplishments, she remains grounded and connected to her modest origins.

The renowned music superstar, whose birth name is Dolly Rebecca Parton, was born on January 19, 1946, in Sevierville, Tennessee, on Locust Ridge. Her birthplace was a one-bedroom cabin, and she grew up alongside 11 siblings.

Her father, Robert Lee Parton, worked as a sharecropper and, due to a lack of access to education, he couldn’t read or write. To supplement his income, he also worked in construction.

Despite their modest living conditions, Dolly Parton’s family had a deep connection to music. Raised in a musically-oriented household, they frequently sang together and found joy through music.

Dolly’s mother, Avie Lee Owens, who was a performer herself, taught her daughter how to sing. She introduced Dolly to various types of music, including church songs and Elizabethan ballads that had been part of their family heritage for generations.

Dolly’s grandfather, Jake Robert Owens, was a minister and the composer of the hymn “Singing His Praise.” Some of Dolly’s siblings developed an interest in music, and a few of them performed in the family band.

Dolly also had an uncle named Sam Owens, who was a musician and singer-songwriter in his own right. He recognized Dolly’s musical talent from a very young age and was the first to believe she had the potential to become a famous musician.

Dolly Parton’s siblings include Stella Mae, Cassie Nan, twins Freida Estelle and Rachel Ann, Willadeene, David Wilburn, Coy Denver, Bobby Lee, Robert, and Larry. Sadly, Robert passed away in 2021 after battling cancer, and Larry passed away as an infant.

As the fourth child among her 12 siblings, Dolly frequently assisted her parents in caring for her younger brothers and sisters. The entire family lived together under the same modest roof.

During that time, their log cabin consisted of only one bedroom and one living room, lacking modern amenities like running water and electricity. Remarkably, the property still stands to this day.

Dolly Parton has consistently been open about her humble beginnings and how her early life experiences shaped her perspective on life. Growing up in a large family with limited resources, she understands the struggles of poverty firsthand.

In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Parton fondly recollected her childhood in the rural Tennessee mountains, emphasizing the positive memories that brought her joy. She stated:

“Of course, not everything was perfect, but I prefer to remember the best of times.”

She cherished the days spent with her siblings, singing at church, and even the less enjoyable chores she had to do. Parton also reflected on the immense laughter she shared with her family.

Parton mentioned how her brothers and sisters were always singing, and she would frequently try to persuade them to be her backup singers as she pretended to be the lead singer on stage, although they were usually disinterested.

Their small cabin, as she remembered, was consistently bustling with her siblings, resulting in a fair amount of teasing and squabbling. Nevertheless, despite the commotion, they remained a tight-knit family.

Parton added that they spent a significant amount of time outdoors because the cabin was too cramped to accommodate them comfortably. The outdoor space served as an extension for sharing meals, engaging in entertainment, and playing games.

Parton emphasized that her family was consistently grateful for having food on the table and a roof over their heads. While they may not have had everything they wanted, her parents always stressed that there were other families enduring even greater hardships. She explained:

“We were poor, but I never felt poor.”

Despite their modest beginnings, Parton’s unwavering passion and musical talent would ultimately propel her to become one of the most successful and cherished country music artists of all time.

Childhood in Poverty Although she has cherished memories of her childhood, Parton acknowledged that growing up in poverty meant enduring challenging conditions. She practically lived in a cabin with her family of 14 and had limited access to basic necessities.

Dolly Parton once revealed in a Playboy magazine interview with journalist Lawrence Grobel in March 1978 that she was just eight years old when she first encountered a toilet and bathroom in her aunt’s house, and it fascinated her.

Recalling their innocence and ignorance at the time, Parton shared that she and her siblings were actually afraid to use the toilet, believing it might suck them in. She described it as a “really weird” experience.

Daily baths were considered a luxury for Parton and her family. They often made their own soap, and on occasion, they would all hop into a truck and drive to the river for a bath.

While there was a nearby creek, they preferred the river because it was like a “big bath” for all of them. They would swim together, wash each other’s hair, and let their homemade soap flow down the river.

Dolly Parton once humorously joked about their river baths, saying it would have left a ring around the Little Pigeon River, comparing their river bath to a “bathtub.” Bathing in the river was a summertime tradition for her family.

However, during the winter, the bathing routine was more restricted. The family had a pan of water to wash with as much as possible. When asked by Lawrence Grobel how often they bathed in the winter, Parton replied:

“Well, we bathed once a week, whether we needed it or not, as the saying goes.”

Bathing became more important to Parton when she reached high school. She would take a bath every night due to the unhygienic habits of her younger siblings during bedtime. Parton shared how her younger siblings would wet the bed at night, and she’d often have to get up in the morning and wash herself again.

Dolly Parton, unafraid to share her thoughts about their unconventional practices, explained that getting peed on might sound unsanitary to some, but the urine provided some warmth during cold winters. Living in the mountains, she recalled how their home could get extremely cold. She even mentioned that being peed on wasn’t so bad because their room was nearly as chilly as the outside, so it served as a source of heat. They would all bundle up in bed.

Despite her humble beginnings and the challenges she faced in her childhood, Parton has described her family as happy and rich in other ways. She emphasized the importance of family in her life and how it has inspired her music and philanthropic efforts.

Parton’s financial success has been significant, with Forbes estimating her net worth at $375 million in 2022. Much of her wealth comes from owning the publishing rights to her extensive catalog of songs, which includes hits like “I Will Always Love You.” Parton has also earned substantial royalties from her songs used in movies, broadcasts, and sales, with Forbes estimating the value of her songs at $150 million and her royalties at $6 million to $8 million. Her successful theme park, Dollywood, and related ventures have also contributed to her wealth. Despite her financial success, she continues to be known for her generous spirit and philanthropic efforts.

Dolly Parton’s substantial wealth includes her iconic theme park, Dollywood, which is one of Tennessee’s major tourist attractions, bringing in approximately $3 million annually. She invested in the park in 1968 when it was known as Pigeon Forge, later renaming it “Dollywood.” The park has expanded to include a hotel and a water park.

Parton’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to launch a new company called “Doggy Parton,” inspired by her love of animals. The company specializes in producing dog toys and clothing lines.

Parton’s upbringing taught her the importance of sharing her success with others, and she has been actively involved in various charitable and social causes. She has made significant donations to those in need. In 2016, she collaborated with a group of musicians to raise $13 million for the recovery efforts of East Tennessee wildfire survivors, including areas like Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. This charitable event featured performances by other renowned artists such as Chris Stapleton, Kenny Rogers, Lauren Alaina, Alison Krauss, Reba McEntire, Cyndi Lauper, and Chris Young.

Her generosity extended to healthcare when she donated $1 million to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, where her niece received leukemia treatment.

In addition to supporting disaster relief efforts and healthcare, Dolly Parton made headlines in 2020 for her $1 million donation to vaccine research during the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to the development of the Moderna vaccine.

Parton is also renowned for her lifelong dedication to promoting early childhood literacy. Through her non-profit program, Imagination Library, she sends free books to over one million children each month. Inspired by her father’s experience with illiteracy, she and Robert Lee founded this non-profit organization in 1995. Initially, it started in eastern Tennessee but has since expanded its reach to help children in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library literacy program has extended its reach to other countries, including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In 2018, she proudly announced at the Library of Congress that the program had successfully distributed its 100 millionth book. Parton initially started the program with the intention of helping her father and her hometown, never anticipating its extraordinary success. She acknowledged that it took on a life of its own and became a remarkable endeavor.

Parton found great joy in the fact that her father was able to witness the positive impact of their efforts before his passing in 2000. Her vision for the Imagination Library remains ambitious, as she hopes to provide a total of one billion books within her lifetime.

Despite her challenging childhood, Parton has always cherished the importance of family and community. She has utilized her success to give back generously, donating millions of dollars each year to various charitable causes, spanning education, healthcare, and disaster relief. Her humble beginnings instilled in her the values of hard work, determination, and the unifying power of music. As she reflects on her life, she fondly remembers the joy, laughter, and love that filled her childhood home and the unwavering support of her family throughout her journey.


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