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The Career of Many Colors

The Career of Many Colors

| May 10, 2024

I love a good “rags to riches” story! In the world of finance, self-made names we usually hear are George Soros or Oprah Winfrey, but one person you may not immediately think of has quite the story. Who is it?

The Backwoods Barbie, the Queen of Country, the Book Lady, or as most people know her, Dolly Parton. Although now known for her over-the-top looks and global popularity, Dolly Rebecca Parton hasn’t always been part of high society. This multi-millionaire came from humble roots in the mountains of rural Tennessee. So how did she become a global sensation, and what can we learn from her?

Humble Beginnings

Dolly was one of twelve children, all born before her mother turned thirty-five. They lived in a one-bedroom house, supported by her father working as a farmer and construction worker. Dolly later described them as “dirt poor.” (Biography.com). 

Although lacking in material things, her family was rich in talent. Many of her siblings were musical, her mother loved to sing, and her grandpa played the fiddle at the church where he worked as a pastor. Dolly’s uncle got her opportunities to perform, first in church and then small gigs on the radio and tv shows in the nearby bigger city, Knoxville. At ten years old she was performing on the Cas Walker Show, and at thirteen she made a guest appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. There she met Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to embrace her individuality and be true to herself. No doubt those words of wisdom helped her become the unique individual she is today!

Dolly followed her dreams to Nashville, where she moved the day after high school graduation. That very first day, she met her future husband outside a laundromat, and they were married two years later. He remains out of the limelight, being a private individual.

Nashville Hustling

Known as “Music City”, countless young singers have journeyed to Nashville in an attempt to break into the industry. Even back in the 1960s, this was no easy feat. Dolly faced trial after trial. Monument Records tried to force her into the mold of a bubblegum popstar, despite her wishes to be a country singer. Later, when she joined the Porter Wagoner Show, she faced fan rejection for replacing the former singer, Norma Jean.

For six years, Dolly worked with Porter Wagoner, and the two of them had 10 hit singles. Still, Dolly had no success as a soloist. That is, until she released a cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mule Skinner Blues”, which finally got her onto the charts.

From there, she began to gain momentum, releasing classic hits like “The Coat of Many Colors”, which was based on her own bullying experience in school, “Joshua”, and her most well-known song, “Jolene”.

Her Recipe for Success

In two words: hard work. She has spent her entire life hustling. Aside from being a singer, she is a businesswoman, investor, author, producer, songwriter, and philanthropist. Her most valuable asset is Dollywood, an amusement park she co-founded in her home state. Her 50% of shares is said to be worth $165 million. Another aspect of her wealth is the royalties from her songs. Ever since 1966, she has held on to the rights to almost all of her songs. These are said to be worth $150 million.

In fact, holding on to the rights of her music is so important to her that back in the early days of her success, she was approached by no other than Elvis Presley himself, with the request of singing Dolly’s song, “I Will Always Love You”. However, his manager wanted 50% of song rights, and Dolly refused the deal. Later, this proved to be the right decision, because Whitney Houston’s cover of the song brought Dolly around $20 million.

Philanthropy

Aside from her looks, Dolly is known for her generosity. For example, she used the funds she received from Whitney Houston’s cover to invest in a black community in Nashville, in Whitney’s honor. She also runs a program called “Imagination Library”, which supplies books to children from birth to kindergarten. This is especially useful now in our area, as the twenty-three-year-old Raising Readers program in Maine comes to an end.

As for Dollywood, this was not just a shrewd business decision. Dolly says about it, “I always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area.” (Biography.com). And that she did! Dollywood is a popular tourist attraction, even to this day. In fact, in 2022, Dollywood was ranked #1 amusement park in the US by Tripadvisor (WSBTV).

In another act of philanthropy, Dolly donated $1 million to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2020. She only learned later that this center helped make the Moderna COVID vaccine, which played a huge part in ending the pandemic. Thanks, Dolly!

Lessons

Dolly now is said to be worth $650 million, or more conservatively according to Forbes, $440 million. Either way, that’s galaxies away from where she started. She has 40 top ten albums and 25 number one singles and has been inducted into both the Country Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Although the likelihood of you or me achieving this level of financial success is slim, there are some key lessons Dolly’s story teaches us.

  1. Hard work is to be embraced, not avoided. She credits her success to working tirelessly, even decades later.
  2. A person isn’t to be defined by their financial status, whether poor or wealthy. They shouldn’t treat others differently or expect to be treated like royalty themselves. Because at the end of the day, we’re all just people.
  3. Use what we already have to help others. I’m certain that whether Dolly had $650 million dollars or $650 dollars to her name, she would still find ways to be generous.
  4. Make smart use of your money. Though she isn’t a stereotypical Wall Street investor, she has invested in smart ventures, such as Dollywood, that paid off.

Did you learn something new about Dolly Parton? I know I sure did. I also developed newfound respect for this self-made millionaire.

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