Dolly Parton Gets Candid on Roots, Inspiration, and Career

I had the rare opportunity to interview one of the greats, Dolly Parton, the night after receiving the prestigious Lifetime Achievement award at the 5oth Annual Country Music Awards for her special Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors Circle of Love, which aired on November 30th, and was the most watched show on TV all night!

Whether you know her for her career, her look, her theme park, or her music, you might not know the incredible way she got her start, how she used to stand on her porch with tobacco stick and a tin can on top dreaming of the day that she’d be on the Grand Ole Opry stage. You also might not know when she was born her family was so financially strapped her Dad paid the doctor with a bag of oatmeal for the delivery.

Being able to chat with Parton the morning after receiving one of the greatest awards in country music history was so full circle, and an incredible opportunity to touch upon dreams coming true. Parton and I talked about how her upbringing shaped her into who she is today, the amount of work necessary to achieve your dreams, integral people in her life that got her to where she is today, and Parton left us with some inspirational advice on being who you are. 

If You Can Dream It Do It:

Last night you were honored with the Lifetime Achievement award, and I love what you said in your acceptance speech, ‘thank you to my fans for letting me little girl’s dreams come true.’ How was that moment for you? Full circle?

Dolly Parton:

“It really was. It makes you feel really proud, like you might have done something right, and as I mentioned it was my dream always as a little child to be a star. I used to stand on the porch and pretend I was singing to the world with a tobacco stick and a tin can on top, and last night when I said, ‘I think God and the fans every day for allowing me to see my little girl dreams come true, but I’m a big dreamer, I even have a book out, called Dream More, and so I just always believed that you can dream it as you say, you can have it, but you’ve got to put legs, and wings, and everything on those dreams.”

“You can’t just dream them. They’ll just become an empty wish, otherwise. You’ve got to work your dreams.”

So, it’s possible, I’m a good example of dreams coming true!”

If You Can Dream It Do It:

Speaking of working, your Uncle Bill is introduced in this new Christmas movie, and he was really instrumental in believing in you with your dream, and driving you back and forth. Can you talk about those moments, and how your Uncle Bill was really instrumental in your dream coming true?

Dolly Parton:

“My mom’s people were all very musical, and my Uncle Bill played guitar and he used to sing at honkey tonks and different things around the Knoxville area. So, every time he would come to visit, he and my mom were very close, and so when he would come to visit, he would come see me singing my songs, and writing these songs, and he just saw that I was going to do it, that I was serious about this. So, he started paying to attention, and taking me around to sing locally at different things like that. So, we would take different trips back and forth, and as we would do that, we’d beat on the dash of the car, I’d play the guitar, as he drove. We’d write songs together, in fact we had the BMI Song of the Year back in 1966, called “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” so we were very proud of that. He was a very important person in my life, still is, he’s still living. So, I wanted to honor him and introduce him in the movie.”

If You Can Dream It Do It:

Can you talk about how your financial challenges growing up really shaped you into who you are today?

Dolly Parton:

“Well, I really think that my life, the way it was then, has changed everything for me, the way I look at things now.”

I still appreciate the value of a dollar. I think about my daddy every time I go to buy a piece of something that maybe costs a lot, like one piece of clothes that costs thousands of dollars, or hundreds of dollars, I think, ‘I can’t buy that.’ My daddy didn’t make that much in a whole year, so I’d rather buy a whole bunch of cheap stuff, than to have one thing that cost a fortune, because you can’t hardly justify. That’s why I look so cheap. The only time I spend money excessively is on my stage costumes, but other than that I just wear whatever.

“I just appreciate people’s conditions. I understand them. I understand how hard it is. So, I just appreciate everything, because I relate to everybody for all those same reasons that you said, because I lived it.”

If You Can Dream It Do It:

Last question, speaking of that, I was talking to Raelynn, who is a younger country artist, and she said she just really admires you because of your authenticity, and how you’ve remained who you are. I think a lot of artists, and even young people really struggle remaining who they are. What advice would you give to them on kind of sticking to their guns?

Dolly Parton:

“Well there’s that old saying, and I use this all the time, that says ‘to thine own self be true.’

There is such depth of wisdom in that if you take that apart and really follow that, because.."

"You’ve got to know who you are, you’ve got to appreciate who you are, you’ve got to know your limitations if there are any, or to know that there are none, you have to really know who you are, what you’re willing to sacrifice, how hard you’re willing to work. So, if you can know you, and you can really connect with who you are, and be comfortable with that, then you usually can connect to other people."

I just never thought about being anything, but myself. I mean, who else would I be? I’d be a fake. I look fake, but I’m not fake.”

Thanks Dolly for reminding us the power of dreaming big, and for being candid as well as honest, describing dreams as merely a wish without the hard work, without the hustle. That in order to achieve your dreams you really have to do the work on knowing and being yourself, you have to sacrifice, and know what you're willing to sacrifice.