Born on Jan. 19, 1946, in Locust Ridge, Tenn., into a poor family that would eventually include 12 children, Dolly Parton learned early to escape the hardships of life through her vivid and far-ranging imagination. Before she learned to read and write, she was "making up" her own songs. She got her first guitar when she was 8 and began singing on a Knoxville, Tenn., radio station at age 11. That same year, she made her first recording on Gold Band Records, a tiny independent label. She made a name for herself locally while still in high school, but she dreamed of a bigger stage. The day after she graduated in 1964, she moved to Nashville.
Her first charting records on Monument Records included "Dumb Blonde" and "Something Fishy," both in 1967. At about this time, Porter Wagoner was looking for a new "girl singer" for his syndicated television show. Parton accepted the job in 1967, signed with RCA Records in 1968 and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1969. However, she left Wagoner's show in 1974, as her solo releases -- such as "Joshua," "Coat of Many Colors" and "Jolene" -- were out-charting their collaborations. After their split, Parton wrote the song "I Will Always Love You" for Wagoner, and it reached No. 1 for the first time in 1974.
As a solo artist, Parton also snared the CMA's female vocalist award in 1975 and 1976 and won the entertainer trophy in 1978. Still, her TV variety series lasted only one season, in 1976. Her musical style grew closer to pop music, but fans responded as "Here You Come Again" spent five weeks at No. 1 in 1978. She also grew more interested in movies, starring in the 1980's 9 to 5 and 1982's Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Taken from the Whorehouse soundtrack, "I Will Always Love You" reached No. 1 again in 1982. A Bee Gees-written duet with Kenny Rogers, "Islands in the Stream," topped the country charts in 1983.
Parton returned to her acoustic roots when she recorded the 1987 landmark album Trio with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. Four of its singles reached the Top 10, and "To Know Him Is To Love Him" reached No. 1. After signing to Columbia Records, she returned to No. 1 as a solo artist in 1989 with "Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That." That same year, she starred in the hit movie Steel Magnolias with Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine and Julia Roberts.
A 1991 duet with Ricky Van Shelton, "Rockin' Years," reached No. 1 in 1991, but Parton's greatest commercial fortune of the decade -- and probably of all-time -- came when Whitney Houston recorded "I Will Always Love You" for The Bodyguard soundtrack, and both the single and the album were massively successful. In 1993, she recorded the album Honky Tonk Angels with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.
Parton re-recorded "I Will Always Love You" with Vince Gill, and they won a CMA award for vocal event in 1996. Taken from the album Trio II, a cover of "After the Gold Rush" won a Grammy for best country collaboration with vocals in 1999, and Parton was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame later that year.
However, she was frustrated by her fruitless attempts to secure a solo hit single in the 1990s. Instead, she teamed with respected independent label Sugar Hill Records and offered the back-to-basics acoustic album The Grass Is Blue in 1999. An instant favorite among critics and longtime fans, it won the International Bluegrass Music Association's album of the year and a Grammy for best bluegrass album. She followed it with Little Sparrow in 2001 and Halos & Horns in 2002.
Parton also changed the landscape of her Tennessee stomping grounds when she opened the Dollywood theme park in 1985. It remains among the most popular vacation destinations in the South. She has also donated more than 1 million books to pre-school children across the United States and provides scholarships to high school students in Sevier County, Tenn. In return, the county honored her with a life-size statue in front of the courthouse.