Dolly Parton’s Family Taught Her to Believe in Herself so She Tries to Teach the Same to Kids Through Her Children’s Music

Dolly Parton has accomplished an impressive amount in her 75 years. It all started with the belief that she can do anything she sets her mind to. Her family made sure she knew that growing up. Now, it’s the “Eagle When She Flies” singer’s mission to make sure each child knows their potential is limitless.

Dolly Parton holds up her hands and guitar in front of a red curtain.
Dolly Parton | Rui Vieira – PA Images via Getty Images

‘The Little Engine That Could’ inspired the singer in a big way

“I always had something inside me that believed I had something important to do,” she wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “I didn’t know exactly what that was.”

One of the first books she remembers reading from her childhood is The Little Engine That Could. The phrase “I think I can, I think I can,” has stuck with her.

“Since that time I’ve always thought that I am the little engine that did,” she wrote.

It was such an important book to Parton growing up that she made it the first book that’s given out through the Imagination Library program.

Dolly Parton’s mother told her she could do anything

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In addition to The Little Engine That Could, Parton’s family also inspired her.

“It’s all come about because of the faith instilled in my by Mama saying, ‘Through God all things are possible,'” she wrote. “And because of the message of that little book.”

This message of believing in yourself can be heard in many of Parton’s children’s songs, like “I Believe in You.”

“So when I got ready to write songs for my children’s album I thought of ‘I believe in you. I can do it, so can you,'” she wrote.

“I think it’s so important to instill in children to have faith and to know there are great things out there,” the “Jolene” singer continued. “Greatness is out there, greatness you can tap into. But it has to start from in your heart.”

Dolly Parton’s Uncle Bill also believed in her

Parton had a lot of support and encouragement growing up in regard to her music (there were plenty of naysayers too, though). One of her supporters was her Uncle Bill Owens, who was one of her mother’s younger brothers. Owens was also a musician.

“He was fascinated that I loved music just as much as he did,” wrote Parton. “I would sing my songs to him, because I knew he wrote songs, too. So he was like a kindred spirit. He saw that I had potential.”

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It was Owens who gifted Parton her first real guitar.

“We always had just old instruments around with the strings busted,” she wrote. “But I would make anything work. Uncle Bill thought, ‘If she’s that serious about this, she’s gotta have a real guitar and learn to play it really good.'”

He taught her how to play.

“I loved that little baby Martin Guitar,” wrote Parton. “I remember loving that thing like it was a piece of my body, a piece of my soul. I just made friends with it.”

Together, the pair would go around to “places like the country fair or to where a local radio station was going to have some sort of little musical thing on a truck bed outside of a store” to perform.

“That’s when I thought, ‘Well, I have to believe in me,'” she wrote. “And I believe that all of us can do whatever it is that we set out to do.”