What Dolly Parton Puts Into Her Ideas

On a Friday night in 1964, a room full of people laughed at Dolly Parton.

She hadn’t made a joke. Wasn’t trying to be funny. She was an 18-year-old who’d announced at her graduation from Sevier County High School on US Route 411 in Tennessee what she intended to do with her life.

Other kids had said they were going to get married. Going to work in Knoxville. Ms. Parton, though, said:

“I’m going to Nashville and I’m gonna be a star.”

That was the idea. Had been since she was a little thing growing up with 11 siblings in a tin-roof, two-room shack at the absolute end of Locust Ridge Road in the Smoky Mountains.

But Ms. Parton wasn’t one for sitting around on the porch of that tin-roof shack wishing. That would just leave an idea frail and empty.

She believed in putting some sweat and some muscle power into her idea. Believed in giving it real Tennessee air and sunshine.

She wrote her first song, “Little Tiny Tassle Top,” when she was five. Made her first guitar out of a mandolin with two bass guitar strings when she was seven. Recorded her first single, “Puppy Love,” when she was 11. It didn’t chart. Which didn’t stop Ms. Parton.

But that Friday night laughter at Sevier County High School stung. And Ms. Parton felt a bunch of things: she felt the cruelty of the moment. She felt bad, embarrassed.

But one thing she didn’t feel was deterred.

And that’s the thing with ideas. If you put enough sweat and heart and guts into them. If you treat them seriously, treat them with respect. Then they get resilient, tenacious. And they’ll outlive the laughter, the embarrassment.

Ms. Parton walked out of that school with her diploma on Friday night. And walked onto a Greyhound bus for Nashville on Saturday morning.

And US Route 411, where Sevier County High School sits, where that Friday night laughter was, is now named Dolly Parton Parkway.

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