When you think of the American South, certain images might spring to mind—magnolia trees, the gentle drawl of its residents, soulful music, and hearty food. But one of the most enduring symbols of the region’s spirit is a woman whose voice has serenaded millions, whose heart has touched even more, and whose generosity has become legendary. That woman is Dolly Parton.
Born in 1946, in a small cabin near the Little Pigeon River in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Dolly grew up in a family with 12 children. Her humble beginnings in Locust Ridge provided a fertile ground for her creativity. She often recounts tales of her childhood, weaving stories of struggle, love, faith, and family—themes that resonate deeply with the tapestry of the South. It’s these same roots that have kept her grounded, even as she became a global superstar.
The Imprint of Philanthropy
Dolly’s journey from a poor Appalachian child to a country music icon is filled with stories of grit, resilience, and immense talent. But it’s her acts of charity that make her a true Southern inspiration.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
Founded in 1995, this book gifting program mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they start school. What started as a tribute to her illiterate father has since grown into an international initiative, mailing over 150 million books to kids in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, and Ireland.
In 2016, wildfires devastated parts of Tennessee, including areas near Dolly’s beloved home in the Smoky Mountains. In response, she established the My People Fund, which gave $1,000 a month for six months to families who lost their homes. By the end, over $9 million had been distributed to affected families.
In 2020, as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, Dolly donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Her donation played a crucial role in funding Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine research, showing yet again her commitment to making the world a better place.
Over the years, Dolly has quietly offered numerous scholarships to students in her home county, ensuring that they have the financial means to pursue their dreams.
Under this umbrella, she has initiated multiple community-based projects, from providing employment opportunities to building community centers.
Music as Charity
Dolly’s generosity isn’t limited to her wealth. Through her music, she has raised spirits and given a voice to those often left unheard. Songs like “Coat of Many Colors” tell stories of poverty, resilience, and love, offering solace to many facing hardships.
A Southern Beacon
Dolly Parton’s legacy extends far beyond her music. Her Southern roots shaped her, but it’s her boundless compassion and generosity that make her a beacon of hope and inspiration. As we celebrate remarkable individuals from the South, Dolly stands as a testament to the power of kindness, the importance of community, and the enduring spirit of Southern hospitality.