Dolly Parton Said She Was ‘Laughed At’ and Considered ‘Dumb’ When She Got to Nashville

In the time since she first arrived in Nashville in 1964, Dolly Parton has enjoyed a meteoric rise to success. She has award-winning albums and celebrated film roles. Her face is even on the box of a line of Southern-inspired baked goods. Her business savvy has gotten her to this unique position of revered celebrity just as much as her talent. Still, she explained that people looked down on her when she first arrived in the city.

Dolly Parton wears a sparkling silver dress against a gray background in Nashville.
Dolly Parton | Beth Gwinn/Getty Images

Dolly Parton moved to Nashville to pursue music when she was 18

In 1964, Parton graduated from high school. The very next day, she moved to Nashville, determined to make it as a musician. According to the book Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller, Parton told her friends, “I’m going to Nashville tomorrow and I’m not coming back until I make it.”

Though this had been her ambition since she was young, the decision to leave her family behind was a painful one

“I cried almost all the way to Nashville,” she wrote to her parents. “I wanted to turn around a few times and come back. But you know how bad I’ve always wanted to go to Nashville and be a singer and songwriter.”

Dolly Parton said her early music collaborators in Nashville looked down on her

Her early days in Nashville were a struggle, with Parton sometimes stealing food just so she could eat. Still, she stuck to her goals, confident that the struggle would pay off.

“I never dreamed anything except that things would go well and I’d be what I wanted to be — a star,” she told The Austin American Statesman in 1975. “I wouldn’t accept anything else. I’ve been disappointed a lot of times but I’ve never been discouraged. I never once thought about giving it up. I don’t believe I ever did.”

Eventually, Parton and her Uncle Bill Owens were hired at Monument Records as writers. While she feels lucky for the position, she doesn’t know that she received the respect she deserved as a singer.

“My voice is so small and high-pitched and sounded like a kid so they had me singing rockabilly,” she said. “I was so country myself I didn’t fit in.”

She also believes that people looked down on her because of her Smoky Mountain upbringing.

“I knew they thought I was dumb,” she said. “I wrote the same as I do now, country, but they arranged it different. They laughed at the way I talked. I took it personal; it bothered me.”

When Parton got her big break on The Porter Wagoner Show, she moved to RCA, where Wagoner recorded.

She said her success is due to years of hard work

Parton attributes her eventual success to her considerable work ethic. Though she often says that she thinks other musicians are more talented writers or singers, she has a business savvy that has brought her far.

“I’ve worked hard to put wings on my dreams,” she said. “I’ve got big dreams. They’ve got big wings.”

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