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Dolly Parton: The Fresh Air Interview

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Dolly Parton: The Fresh Air Interview

Music Interviews

Dolly Parton: The Fresh Air Interview

Dolly Parton: The Fresh Air Interview

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Dolly Parton has long been known as "The Queen of Country Music." Brendan Hoffman/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment hide caption

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Brendan Hoffman/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment

Dolly Parton has long been known as "The Queen of Country Music."

Brendan Hoffman/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment

Dolly Parton made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry in 1959 when she was just 13. Since then, she's written thousands of songs, including "Coat of Many Colors," "Jolene" and Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You."

Parton is one of the few performers who has been successful enough to start her own theme park. But the philanthropist, actress and singer-songwriter wasn't always wealthy. She grew up, as she puts it, "dirt poor" in a one-room cabin in the mountains of East Tennessee.

In a 2001 interview on Fresh Air, Parton describes how her interest in music started when she was sitting on her front porch, listening to country songs and traditional mountain music.

"I started playing guitar and writing serious songs when I was about 7 years old," Parton said. "My mother was always fascinated with the fact that I could rhyme so much stuff. She has stuff in a trunk, and many years ago, she said, 'Here's some stuff you may want to look at. Here's the stuff you used to write 'fore you could write it down.' She used to write it down. I've been doing it all my life."

Parton says she always knew that she would get to Nashville.

"I knew that I had to go," she says. "It wasn't that I wasn't proud of who I was and where I was from. But I had a dream, and I just couldn't imagine myself [like my mother]. ... I wanted to do something with my music. I knew I was going to leave when I was 18 years old. And I graduated from high school on a Friday night, and I left for Nashville on Saturday morning. I was ready to go."

This interview was originally broadcast on Jan. 23, 2001.