How ‘an Old Raccoon Hunter’ Discovered Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton got her first paying job as a musician at the age of 10. She auditioned for the Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour and won over the grocery store mogul with her tenacious personality and obvious talent. But who exactly was Cas Walker?

Dolly Parton poses backstage at a concert in 1978. She has big, blond curly hair and is wearing a pink and white blouse. She's smiling right into the camera.
Dolly Parton, 1978 | Richard McCaffrey/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Who was Cas Walker of the ‘Farm and Home Hour’?

If you ask Parton who Walker was, she’d tell you: “an old raccoon hunter who started selling groceries door-to-door with a wheelbarrow,” according to her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. She’d also tell you he was “a real character.”

Cas Walker was born in Sevier County, like Parton, in 1902. According to The Smokies, he left home at 14 to work for a paper mill in North Carolina. Later, he headed to Kentucky to work in the coal mines.

When he saved up enough money, Walker returned to East Tennessee and bought a grocery store. Eventually, he bought another and another until he had a chain of markets.

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In order to promote his stores, Walker bought some radio time and started the Farm and Home Hour. The show eventually moved to television and was on the air for 54 years.

Walker was also infamously involved in politics. From 1941 to 1971, he served on the Knoxville city council, where his fiery demeanor kept him in the spotlight. In 1956, Life Magazine published a photo of him about to punch J.S. Cooper, a fellow city councilman, over a debate concerning property assessments.

When Dolly Parton auditioned for Cas Walker

Parton’s Uncle Bill Owens acted as a sort of manager when she was a child. He noticed she had a gift for songwriting and music, so he bought her her first guitar and brought her around to local radio shows in the hopes that some of them would let her perform. One of those radio shows was the Farm and Home Hour.

“Bill and I went down there, me with my little guitar and him with his big ol’ Gretsch guitar,” wrote Parton. “It was 1956, and I was ten years old. My two big numbers at the time were ‘I Love a Tall Man’ by Rose Maddox and the George Jones song ‘You Gotta Be My Baby,’ which was a hit that year.”

Parton took the stage and performed “You Gotta Be My Baby.” She says “the crowd loved [her].”

“They just applauded and applauded,” she wrote. “I looked back at my uncle Bill, because I didn’t know what to do. He said, ‘Just sing it again!’ So I sang it two or three times.”

Dolly Parton performed on the ‘Farm and Home Hour’ for 8 years

After her audition, Parton went to Walker and told him she wanted to work for him. He told her: “Well, then you’ve got a job, because you’re the only person that ever said they would ‘work.’”

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After each show, Walker would take a $5 bill out of his pocket and hand it to Parton. She became a regular guest from the time she was 10 until she left home for Nashville after graduating high school.

But Parton returned to the show in 1967 to perform the second single from her debut album, “Hello, I’m Dolly.” This time, the performance was in color.