Growing up in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains, Dolly Parton was never crazy about her looks. "I always wanted to be prettier," she says. "I got to fixin' myself up. I wanted my clothes tight, my makeup bright, my nails long, my lips red. I got into it."
Some 40 years and 100 million records later, Parton, 57, still loves fixin' up. But these days when the 5'1" singer steps into her signature 5-in. stilettos, she towers above generations of artists influenced by her vocal and songwriting gifts, forays into film, outrageous fashions and fiery drive (her business empire is worth an estimated $200 million). "I can't imagine anybody, especially in country, who doesn't try to emulate Dolly in some way," says singer Emmylou Harris.
Now the subject of a tribute CD, Just Because I'm a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton, featuring divas as diverse as Melissa Etheridge, Shania Twain and Norah Jones, and up for a Country Music Association Award Nov. 5 for female vocalist of the year, Parton looks back on her with heart, humor and heaps of optimism. "I'm full of life, energy, and dreams," she says. "I'm not near done. I feel like I just left home."
LOCUST RIDGE, TENN. 1957
"I had freckles and a gap in my teeth. Everything was homemade or hand-me-downs. I was the fourth of 12 kids. My daddy, Robert Lee [with wife Avie, near Knoxville in 1977], was a tobacco sharecropper. They had such a hard time. The county used to send us boxes of food and scraps."
"This is me and Carl [Dean] before our 1966 wedding. We met the day I got to Nashville in '64. He saw me waiting outside a laundromat. Our first date he takes me right to his mom and daddy's house and says, 'Fix this girl a plate, this is the girl I'm gonna marry.' "
"I used to get in trouble all the time with wearing my makeup with my grandpa [Jake Owens, above], who was a preacher. I had taken my fashion sense from a town prostitute. She was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen. But everybody called her trash. My dad and my grandpa thought I was going straight to hell. They were so afraid I was going to be like that woman, walking the streets, sleeping with everybody. I wasn't interested in sleeping with anybody, 'cause I was afraid they'd mess up my makeup!"
LOS ANGELES, 1980
"Nine to Five was my first movie. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin were great fun to work with, as was Dabney Coleman. I also wrote the theme song and it became my first No. 1 Top 40 record. I have enjoyed working with men, but I have more success working with women."
"Linda Ronstadt [right], Emmylou Harris and I were like sisters. We didn't always agree, but we had a great sound. Our first Trio album was one of the greatest pieces of music I've ever been involved in."
LOS ANGELES, 2003
"There were times I was nervous and scared, but I always believed I was going to make it, always believed I would have success and be a star. I would have sung in a honky-tonk if I'd had to wait tables on the side. I am a showgirl."
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