The Real Reason Dolly Parton Is Glad She Grew Up Poor

Country singer Dolly Parton is the ultimate rags-to-riches story. Raised in a one-room backwoods cabin with 11 siblings, she made her way to the Grand Ole Opry and platinum-selling records. But she never forgot her roots.
Here we’ll look at Parton’s childhood life, her career the entertainment world, and how she gives back. See what she did for her parents when she made it big (page 3) and why she’s so grateful she grew up dirt poor (page 5).

The family farm

Dolly parton cabin
Her family was extremely poor. | Dollywood via Instagram

Parton, 72, grew up in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. Her parents were sharecroppers, planting beans, corn, potatoes, and turnips. Meat was plentiful if you hunted for it: Bear, turtle, rabbit, squirrel, and groundhog. The family also raised chickens and picked fruit.
“Mama was a great cook and taught us all her tricks,” Parton said, adding that the whole family worked hard to be self-sufficient. The only things they needed from the general store were coffee and sugar.
Next: Her music career got an early start.

Her first paying job

Dolly Parton Cas Walker
The audience loved her performances. |

While she worked every day on the family farm, Parton also got a paying job younger than most people: She started a singing career at age 10, performing on the Cas Walker TV and radio show in Knoxville, Tennessee. The audience cheered for an encore. She rode the bus there and back.
The day after high school graduation in 1964, Parton moved to Nashville to work as a songwriter and singer. She went on to produce countless hits like “9 to 5,” “Island in the Stream,” and “I Will Always Love You.”
Next: How she spent her first earnings

She helped Mom and Dad

Dolly Parton with parents
Family came first. | Dolly Parton via Instagram

“With the first money I ever made I bought my Mommy and Daddy a car, and helped them fix their house up,” Parton said. When she made it big, she splurged on Christmas presents for them: a new “big blue truck” for her father (“He was always so proud of that. He never would trade it in.”) and a new Cadillac for her mother.
Next: Her career success

Her hit music career

Dolly Parton
She has had numerous hits. | Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The platinum blond singer-songwriter has been creating hit songs for more than 40 years. She has released 41 top-10 country albums, with at least 25 singles reaching No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts. She has also received nine Grammy awards and various other music accolades.
Her music has contributed to her net worth of $500 million.
Next: She’s happy to know the struggles of the poor.

Why she’s happy she was poor

Dolly Parton at Nashville Music City Theatre
It only drove her to work harder. | Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Parton wouldn’t trade her humble upbringing for anything: “I think being poor has been good for me. I saw how my mom and dad struggled, and how they could stretch a dollar farther than you could begin to imagine.
“Even now, if I am thinking about spending a lot of money on clothing or furniture, I think, ‘I can’t spend so much money on one thing; my poor old daddy could have raised his family five years on that!’”
Next: She tried her hand at acting.


Nine to five
She got a Golden Globe nomination for 9 to 5. | Twentieth Century Fox

In addition to singing, Parton has had an extensive TV and movie career. She’s best known for starring in the big-screen 1980 comedy 9 to 5, for which she also wrote and recorded the title song. She also starred in musical film Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1982. She scored Golden Globe nominations for both roles.
Her various other TV and movie roles include:

  • The Porter Wagoner Show (1960s and 1970s)
  • Steel Magnolias (1989)
  • The Beverly Hillbillies (1993)
  • Hannah Montana (2006-2010)
  • American Idol (2008)

Next: She invests heavily in her hometown.


It scores the most tourists in Tennessee. | Dollywood via Instagram

Parton decided to invest much of her earnings into a business venture in the Smoky Mountains, near where she grew up. She co-owns Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which hosts nearly 3 million guests per year. It’s the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee.
The park features rides and hosts concerts, including appearances by the singer and her family. She admitted she doesn’t ride the rides, though. “I have too much to lose, like my hair,” she joked. “Or other parts of me that might not do well in that kind of high speed.”
Next: Her favorite charity 

Her charity helps kids learn to read

Dolly Parton literacy
She wants kids to have the opportunities her father didn’t. | Dolly Parton via Instagram

The platinum singer-songwriter formed her charity Imagination Library, which provides books to young children. She was inspired by her father, “one of the smartest people I’ve ever known,” who couldn’t read or write.
She revealed why she shares her wealth with those less fortunate: “It seems like the more I give the more I get, and that is the way it is supposed to go in life,” she said. Money is like the tide: It rolls in and it rolls out. If you clutch it, you are not going to keep it.”
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