Dolly Parton has been country royalty for decades, but she still values her siblings, parents, and husband above all else. She explained that she wouldn’t have as much success today if she hadn’t grown up in the way she did. Parton reflected on how having a large family helped her behave with audiences. She also shared that after her childhood, nothing would ever shock her again.
Dolly Parton grew up with 11 siblings
Parton grew up in a one-room home in the Smoky Mountains with her parents and 11 siblings. The family lived without electricity or running water, but Parton says they were happy.
“We were poor but I never felt poor,” she told The Guardian. “We always had food, a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted but Mama and Daddy were always quick to point out the families that suffered far more than we ever did. It all seemed just natural to me.”
Parton shared that she was grateful to grow up with all her siblings.
“It was crowded!” she said. “With that many brothers and sisters there was plenty of teasing and fighting but we were all in it together.”
She said her upbringing means that she can’t be shocked
Parton believes that ever since childhood, she’s understood people exceedingly well. This means that nothing shocks her.
“It’s like I’ve always been able to talk with people that had a problem,” she said, per the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “They know and could sense that I did understand, even if I didn’t know what they were talking about, if I had never experienced it myself. There’s nothing that shocks me — I don’t care how dirty, how bad, how clean, how good or anything, I can just understand it and know that there’s reasons for all things and accept it that way. And I think being brought up hard and poor like we was, and understanding each other like we did and knowing all my people.”
While she believes that she’s had the gift of understanding since birth, she thinks that her many family members helped hone it.
“There’s thirteen in my Daddy’s family and nine in Mama’s and then all these cousins,” she said. “There’s bound to be a personality of every kind in the family and problems of every kind in the family. Well I seen all that, I understood it and knew that person personally and knew that they were a good person basically no matter what they done. So I think that’s got a lot to do with it, the way I was brought up.”
Dolly Parton said her many siblings prepared her for audiences
Having such a large family has helped Parton navigate fame. When she gets on stage, she acts as though she’s speaking with family members. This creates a sense of closeness with the audience, which is part of why her fans love her.
“The way I do it, I always do everything like I’m doing it for my family,” she said. “Like I’m singing just to my folks, and people can sense that. They know if you mean it or not. Even myself, I can spot somebody unreal a mile away. I can see somebody walking across the yard and if they’re a smart aleck I can just feel it, but that’s because of the common knowledge that I was brought up with.”
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