By Rebecca Pauley
“If don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one.” The inspiring author of this quote is the dynamo behind more than 5,000 songs, 26 No.1 country singles, more than 100 million record sales, a Country Music Award (10 times) and a Grammy (7 times), and an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame...But that’s not all.
She also established her own theme park named Dollywood, and to top it all off, a foundation called Imagination Library for kids. By now, you could probably guess who I'm writing about: Dolly Parton!
She has motivated millions to take the road they want to take in life, just like herself! I got the opportunity to interview Dolly, and soon I realized that she is more than I would ever expect! She really is a true role model.
Born into a poor family in 1946 and the 4th of 12 children, Dolly still relates to the positive side of life.
"I had a wonderful childhood - we didn’t have much money but we always had something to eat, a roof over our heads and a bed - although I shared it with a bunch of sisters," she said.
Tennessean Dolly Parton knew being an entertainer is what she was meant to be. She shares that her mother’s side of the family is the musical side.
“They are the Owens and just about all of them could play and sing,” she explained.
Dolly's imagination was set free from early childhood. She remembered that she and her
siblings would pretend all the time.
"I would take a broom handle and put a tin can on it and pretend I was on stage singing at the Grand Old Opry," she recalled.
In the interview she talked about her first real performance at a radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“I was born singing and learned to play the guitar at an early age so by the time I was 11 or so I was already performing before audiences. But, I was nervous at my first real radio performance in Knoxville. I was determined that I was going to make the most of the opportunity…thankfully people loved it - they were clapping and hollering for me to sing some more. I had one big problem - I didn’t have a second song because I never dreamed they would want an encore. So, my Uncle Bill whispered-sing it again. So, I did," she said.
From there, she blossomed into a beautiful singer, songwriter, actress, entertainer, author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and a devoted wife.
When asked about what she likes the most about the music business, she says that, “the fun part is the writing and creating and performing. I love it all but the best thing about what I do is to write songs.” (After all, she has been writing songs since she was a little girl!)
What I find amazing is that she finds time in her day to do things that she has to do and things that she loves to do, like write songs! Her most beloved song she wrote is entitled, Coat of Many Colors. It is about how her mother made a coat out of rags because they couldn’t afford a coat. The children at school made fun of her but Dolly didn’t mind because her mother made it out of love. Dolly says that this is a true story.
“All of us at one time have felt awkward or left out because other people were making fun of us. This song is about that hurt but it’s also about the power you have to get over the hurt," she advised.
Coat of Many Colors is not only a heartfelt song, but a children’s book as well. Always inspired to reach out to children, Dolly’s most recent children’s book, I Am a Rainbow, helps children understand emotions through color.
Dolly explained, “I just wanted to do something for the little ones so this was a fun way to talk about emotions through colors and how kids can deal with their emotions.”
One inspiring line from the book, as only Dolly can compose is, “So be a rainbow - Shine above and filter all your glow through love.”
Parton writes about many life experiences and averages one song every few days! Besides that, she has been married for well over 40 years and she loves to cook (she even wrote a cookbook, Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s). This proves that Parton is unstoppable.
Dolly has always believed that “a big part of success is giving back to your community.” So, she started a foundation called the Imagination Library. Established in 1996 as an effort to benefit the kids of her home county in Tennessee, Dolly wanted children to be excited about books and to, “feel the magic that books can create.” Also, she wanted every child to have books, regardless of the family’s income.
To achieve her goal, she made the plan to mail a brand new, age suitable book each month to every child under five years old in Sevier County.
“My Daddy told me, not long before he left us, that he was more proud of the Imagination Library than anything else that I had accomplished. It makes a girl feel happy when you know your Daddy is proud of you.
He was a big part of the inspiration behind the Imagination Library - and so were all the other people in my life that struggled because they had trouble with reading.” She hopes it “offers families a little joy each month. I know if a book makes a child feel special, then any kid will think a book is special,” she related.
After much consideration, Dolly decided that it would only be fair that other communities participate in this too. A few years later, this small idea evolved into a huge, fantastic reality! Now Dolly has requests from all over the world to bring the foundation to their kids. And, as Dolly is unstoppable, so is the Imagination Library.
Besides the Imagination Library, Dolly also has her own theme park! Dollywood, established in 1986, is located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and is a great place for family vacations, offering picturesque views of the Great Smoky Mountains, thrilling rides, entertaining festivals and much more! People from around the world come to see the beauty and excitement of Dollywood.
“Dollywood is a big part of the Imagination Library…They are both successful businesses and like me, they want to give back," she said.
So how can we realize our dreams? What can we learn from our multitalented role model?
“I look forward to every day. I am always ready to get out of bed and take on a new day. My days are always full," she stated.
As far as her philosophy, “I guess it’s to be optimistic, to look for the love in life, and treat people the way I want them to treat me," she said.
She also offers advice to kids who want to be in the entertainment field: “Follow your dreams and your heart-there will be bumps in the road but you have to stay the course.”
Dolly Parton can relate to and inspire children and adults all over the world. From her poor but family-filled childhood rich with love, music and support, through her road to stardom is a story of a true hero in the entertainment world. Dolly keeps moving forward through all the good and bad times she’s had.
Her future plans include the Imagination Library literacy program which will include music in some way, according to Dollywood Foundation President, David Dotson.
"We will take the Imagination Library as far as we can. I am not sure where it will end up. But, I do know we still have requests from all over the world to bring the program to their kids," she said.
Other future plans include doing more with children’s television, music, and she hopes to do another production for Broadway. Dolly Parton is doing so much that we will just have to wait and see what’s next from The Leading Lady of Country!
“I wake up with a new dream every day…and of course, I always have another album to record," she concluded.