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Dolly Parton: Not Your Average Country Music Star

Dolly Parton. It’s a name you must have heard of at least once. Whether you’re a longtime country music fan or someone who only mildly keeps up with pop culture, hit songs like Parton’s “Jolene” or “9 to 5” are bound to be familiar. To say her career as a country music star has been successful is definitely an understatement. Parton, an East Tennessee native from humble beginnings, recorded her first song at 11 years old. With her fruitful career spanning over 64 years, she has a number of prestigious awards to her name. A few of these include a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts and the Living Legend medal for how her work has influenced cultural heritage in the United States. Dolly is also a global record breaker! She holds two Guinness World Records for her many chart-topping hits on the Billboard “Hot Country Songs” list. 

In addition to being a phenomenal artist, Dolly is a savvy businesswoman. In 1986, her famed theme park, Dollywood, was born. Now, this may be a biased opinion, but Dollywood is the most fun amusement park to visit — hands down. Lines are short, rides are wild and you might even see Dolly herself there. 

Along with the theme park, Dolly also started the Dollywood Foundation in 1988. This charitable organization originally aimed to reduce the high school dropout rates in her area by offering disadvantaged students scholarships and other incentives. As retention and graduation rates of high school students increased, Dolly continued to expand the projects her foundation took on. Dolly’s love for helping children morphed into her 1995 passion project: Imagination Library. This program sends children one free book per month — starting from birth until they begin kindergarten. Because of her father’s inability to read or write, Dolly made it a mission of hers to support children’s education, literacy and critical thinking abilities. Though the initiative was originally started to increase children’s literacy rates in her native Tennessee county, the program has spread globally. To date, Imagination Library has registered over 1.8 million children and gifted over 152 million books worldwide. The program is currently available for children in five countries. As someone who is passionate about children’s education, the efforts Dolly has put into supporting kids hold a special place in my heart. Dolly’s global impact is clear in both her musical talent and her philanthropic endeavors.

Growing up in East Tennessee myself, learning about Dolly Parton was a given. I vividly remember learning about her many charitable deeds throughout elementary and middle school. I read her book “Coat of Many Colors” for the first time in my third grade class. To briefly summarize the story, a young Dolly was made fun of for her coat that was sewn together using many different fabrics. She didn’t let this discourage her and instead was proud of the coat her mother had made with love. To this day, I’m still moved by the message of this story.

In more recent times, Parton’s foundation raised millions to help residents affected by the East Tennessee wildfires in 2016. She also donated $1 million to Coronavirus research conducted by Vanderbilt University, which eventually helped fund the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. These are, of course, just some of the many ways in which Dolly Parton has used her success to assist those around her. While there is no way to cover all of her achievements and contributions in this one article, it is clear that Parton’s passion for helping others has guided her throughout her career. 

Dolly’s efforts to give back to her community mean just as much now as they did when I was younger. Her generosity, work ethic and compassionate nature have inspired me endlessly.

Samiya is a medical student at UMKC. She loves exploring new coffee shops, trying out new beauty trends, and is a sucker for all things wellness!
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