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Parton grew up poor on a farm in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain foothills, the fourth of 12 children born to a farming couple. Her sister Stella later became a singer as well, and five other siblings have worked as professional musicians. Parton sang in church as a girl, and at age ten appeared on the Cass Walker TV show in Knoxville with members of her grade school class. Parton appeared at the Grand Ole Opry at age 12, and her first single, "Puppy Love," was released by the blues-oriented Louisiana label Goldband.

Parton wrote many of her own hits, either alone or in collaboration with Bill Owens. Among the songs she has written is "I Will Always Love You," a #1 country hit for Parton in 1974 and in 1982. The song sold over 4 million copies in 1992 for Whitney Houston.

One day after graduating high school in 1964 she moved to Nashville and signed with Monument. Her first day in town she met Carl Dean, whom she married two years later. Her big break came with "Dumb Blonde," a minor hit that peaked at #24 on the country chart. In 1967 she joined singer Porter Wagoner’s syndicated country-music show, and "Miss Dolly," as she was called, became very popular with viewers. She signed to RCA, and the duo had many country hits, including "Just Someone I Used to Know" in 1969 and "Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man" in 1970. While with Wagoner, she charted over a dozen solo country & western hits, including "Joshua" #1 in 1970 and "Coat of Many Colors" #4 in 1971.

In 1974 Parton left Wagoner completely, having released "Jolene," the title track of which became her second #1 country hit . Linda Ronstadt covered "I Will Always Love You" in 1975 on Prisoner in Disguise; Emmylou Harris sang "Coat of Many Colors" that same year, and Maria Muldaur covered "My Tennessee Mountain Home" on her first record.

Parton’s first major pop single was "Here You Come Again," which went gold and hit #3 in early 1978. The LP of the same name went platinum. She also hit the pop Top Twenty that year with "Two Doors Down." Parton had successfully crossed over. "Baby, I’m Burnin" went to #25 in 1979. Other
#1 C&W hits of that time include "You’re the Only One" in 1979, "Startin’ Over Again" in 1980, and "Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You" in 1980.

In 1980 she earned an Oscar nomination for her film debut in "9 to 5." Parton’s recording of the title theme was a #1 hit in pop and country. In 1982 she costarred in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" with Burt Reynolds. Her other film credits include "Rhinestone" in 1984, "Steel Magnolias" in 1989, the made-for-television "Wild Texas Wind" in 1992, and "The Beverly Hillbillies" in 1993. In 1976 she hosted a syndicated music show "Dolly." Her 1987 prime-time variety show of the same name on ABC did not fare as well and was cancelled after one season.

Through the eighties she continued to score Country and Western #1 hits with "But You Know I Love You" in 1981, "I Will Always Love You" in 1982, the Bee Gees written and produced duet with Kenny Rogers, "Islands in the Stream" in 1983, "Tennessee Homesick Blues" in 1984, "Real Love" another duet with Rogers in 1985, "Think About Love" in 1985, "Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That" in 1989, "Yellow Roses" in 1989, and "Rockin’ Years" in 1991, a duet with Ricky Van Shelton.

Parton’s most successful album was Trio, a collection of traditional country songs performed with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. It won a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1987. In 1993 Parton teamed up with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette for Honky Tonk Angels, featuring the songs of such early-country singers as Patsy Cline and Kitty Wells.In 1986 Parton opened Dollywood, a Smoky Mountain theme park. In 1994 she released her autobiography, Dolly: My Life and Unfinished Business. She has received many awards, including four Grammys and four Country Music Association awards.