A world without country queen, Dolly Parton, is not a world I’d ever want to live in.
A world without “Jolene,” 9:5 The Musical, the 99 track Dolly Box Set, or Dollywood seems outrageous to even consider. Her talent and kindness has touched millions and made our world a better place.
But ironically enough, the country music world without Dolly actually almost existed… under her initial management at Monument Records, owner Fred Foster was doing his damnedest to make young Dolly a pop sensation.
I shudder at the mere thought of it, but two of her first releases “Busy Signal” and “Don’t Drop Out,” as well as a guest appearance on the sensationalized teenage dance broadcast, ‘American Bandstand,’ were stark contrasts from the Dolly we know and love today.
Dolly spent her first year in the music business following this façade set by Foster, however, for Dolly, her “roots” have always been of upmost importance, and her beginnings in the Great Smoky Mountains later became the forefront of many of her songs, something she struggled to portray in pop music.
In the midst of this battle over Dolly’s image, she remained true to herself, but quietly.
She continued to write country-branded and styled songs alongside her influential uncle, Bill Owens. At only 19 years old, Dolly’s first ever composition, “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” was recorded and released by country singer Bill Phillips, and it resonated with country radio listeners.
It shot up to number six and gave Dolly her first hit, a country hit.
When her first pop single releases didn’t chart, Dolly’s career was in jeopardy, but her public persona was still at the mercy of Foster, who thought her high voice was fit for country music.
But after the success of “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” Dolly re-gained the leverage over her true identity, convincing Fred Foster that Dolly needed to do country music in her own way.
Dolly’s way has continued to gain her monumental success from then on. Ironically, her first true, country hit to chart was a song called “Dumb Blonde,” which featured lyrics that reminded listeners (and Foster) that she was the farthest thing from that old stigma:
“Just because I’m blonde Don’t think I’m dumb Cause this dumb blonde ain’t nobody’s fool…”
The incredible songwriting ability of a young teenager allowed her to remain true to the roots she still proudly claims at 76-years-old.
Dolly Parton could label herself many things – entrepreneur, singer, entertainer, philanthropist, the list is never-ending.
But in her book Songteller, Dolly opens with the words:
“My name is Dolly Parton, and I am a songwriter…”
And I can’t help but think that’s the most accurate label of them all.