Dolly Parton's Stairway to Success
Entertainer/Actress/Songwriter Turns Heads and Takes Chances
Listen to Part One of Bob Edward's conversation with Parton.
Listen to Part Two of the conversation.
Hear the full 30-minute interview in its entirety.
Sept. 24-25, 2002 -- At a recent live show at a Washington, D.C., club known for cutting-edge rock 'n' roll acts, Dolly Parton wooed a packed house of twenty- and thirtysomethings with her down-home blend of pop and country music.
Not bad for a self-professed simple country girl, now on her fourth decade at the top of the country music scene. Parton recently joined Morning Edition host Bob Edwards in the NPR studios to talk about her childhood, her long career and her latest CD, Halos & Horns.
She also spoke openly -- and with a good sense of humor -- about the first thing most people think of when they hear the name Dolly Parton: her proportions. She told Edwards she got a lot of attention as a young girl in Nashville in the 1950s, when she was just getting her start in the music business.
"I had this piled-up mop of blond bleached hair, and these boobs sticking out, and my clothes skin-tight. That was a country girl's idea of what glamour was," she said. "It served me well, being a woman... I know that the way I look has held me back, maybe some -- but I'm not sure I've been held back much, considering where I come from.
"I enjoy the way I look -- this is how I feel comfortable," she said. "I want to believe -- and I do believe -- that eventually people will see... that underneath this hair there is a brain, and underneath these big ol' boobs there's an even bigger heart."
What many don't realize is that Parton, away from the spotlight, is one of the most successful songwriters in country music history. Whitney Houston's cover of her song, "I Will Always Love You," was a number-one hit in 1993. It was first performed by Parton as a romantic country ballad.
Parton told Edwards she doesn't resent Houston's success with the song. "I will always appreciate her -- I made a lot of money, and I need a lot of money, because it costs a lot of money to look this cheap," she said with a laugh.
"It was my song, it was her record, and it made us both rich."
Parton remembers growing up poor in Tennessee, and said the lesson of success is that money is no substitute for family. "We barely made it, but we did make it. We had music, and that got us through a lot of hard times," she said. "If you've got a faith in God, a great sense of humor and music, how hard can it be?"
Parton's had tremendous success in the country music field, and has earned some fame as an actress. But she's not afraid to try something new. On her new CD, she even takes on a sacred cow of rock 'n' roll: Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."
"Why not? I always loved the song, and my husband has always loved the song -- he's a big Led Zepplin fan, and he's always playing all that rock 'n' roll," she told Edwards. "I figured we'll go in the studio and if it turns out great, we'll use it, and if it doesn't, well then nobody will ever know we even tried it. Everybody says 'That took a lot of nerve -- it's a classic.' Well, a song is a song."
Browse more NPR stories on Dolly Parton.
Parton's songs "Coat of Many Colors" (1971) and "Here You Come Again" (1977) were part of the NPR 300 master list of works from the past 100 years.
Official Web site for Dollywood, Parton's theme park in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains.
A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill site about the Goldband Recording Corporation, where Parton recorded her first single in 1960, at age 13.
Sugar Hill Records
In 1999 Parton was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.