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Good Golly Miss Dolly: What Dolly Parton Can Teach Us About Branding
Banner Image: Vernanda
Last week, the woman, the wig, and the legend known as Dolly Parton celebrated her birthday. The country superstar, businesswoman, philanthropist, and Capricorn hardly needs an introduction; her sterling reputation of good humor, generosity, and glamor precedes her.
One of the most beloved figures in pop culture, Parton has never left audiences wondering who she is. Her songs and quotable soundbites over the years have painted a picture of a quick-witted wordsmith who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her lore transcends generations.
Her authenticity, her industry-spanning work, and her commitment to giving back have made the Queen of Country feel like the world’s “Aunt Dolly” — and she’s given society a timeless lesson in personal branding.
Parton was born the fourth child of 12 in a one-bedroom cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains in 1946. At age six, she first found her voice when she joined her Pentecostal Church’s choir. Knowing she was destined for stardom, she moved to Nashville the day after her high school graduation to pursue her music career.
Coming from a self-described “rags-to-rhinestones” story, Parton is known for her over-the-top outfits, hair, and makeup. For someone larger-than-life, it only makes sense that her style embodied her spirit! Unlike many of our divas today, Parton has never shied away from sharing her penchant for cosmetic procedures. Recently she told Saga Magazine, “If something is bagging, or sagging, or dragging. I’ll tuck it, suck it, or pluck it.”
Despite her glitzy exterior now, Parton hasn’t shied away from her humble roots. Parton has paid tribute to those beginnings through her songs like ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and the creation of her amusement park, Dollywood, an embodiment of her Appalachian upbringing.
She found success as a writer, often co-writing with her uncle, Bill Owens, who she credits with introducing her to the music industry. Everybody say thank you, Uncle Bill!
Working ‘9 to 5’
Parton got her start after Porter Wagoner offered her a regular spot on his weekly syndicated television program, “The Porter Wagoner Show” in 1967. Releasing mostly duets with Wagoner, Parton didn’t find mainstream solo success until she released the infamous side-chick anthem, ‘Jolene.’
Legend has it that Parton was responsible for the greatest day in song-writing history, with rumors saying she wrote ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ on the same day. Parton recently debunked the lore, saying they were written a few days apart. Greatest day, greatest week, it’s all semantics - her pen was on fire in 1972!
A true Renaissance woman, Parton brought her talents to the big screen. Parton starred alongside powerhouses Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the comedy, “9 to 5.” She received nominations for both her acting and the film’s title song. Fans are still patiently waiting for a Dolly Parton EGOT.
Parton continued her acting career with “Steel Magnolias” and various television movie appearances. Younger generations may recognize her from her guest role as Aunt Dolly, playing the godmother of real-life goddaughter Miley Cyrus’s series “Hannah Montana.”
In the form of a hit song, book club seal, or cameo role, Dolly made her presence known across industries. While it helps to be a multi-talented performer, there’s no denying Dolly’s brand benefitted from hard work and growth into new spaces.
‘More Where That Came From’
Parton leaves behind more than an iconic discography and a trail of glitter but a legacy of charity and compassion. Most recently, Parton donated $1 million to the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology, and Inflammation in Nashville, Tennessee, during the pandemic to fund research for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine (AKA the Dolly Vaxx™).
In 1995, Parton founded the children’s literacy program, the Imagination Library, to benefit the children of her hometown in honor of her father, who couldn’t read or write. The program is international and gifts over 2 million free books each month to children in five countries.
Her charitable exploits were also clearly authentic and not publicized in a self-serving manner.
In 1992, Whitney Houston recorded her famous version of “The Bodyguard.” It recently surfaced that Parton invested the royalties she received from Houston’s cover to purchase a strip mall complex and bring business into a predominantly Black neighborhood in Nashville.
‘Nobody But You’
Dolly Parton is one of those stars that’s impossible to compare to her peers. Her contributions to music and philanthropy are second to none, but Parton’s persona is what makes her America’s Sweetheart. In an industry often marked by pretense, Parton has been a beacon of sincerity and warmth. Her ability to connect with audiences through her humility and charm has cemented her as one of the few authentic figures in pop culture.
Happy belated birthday to an icon and, most importantly, to a kind-hearted person who has used her personal brand to lift industries, communities, and spirits in her native Tennessee, across the United States, and around the world.