Dolly Parton: Fall Session I at Bird

You might think country queen Dolly Parton is a bit dated after more than a half-century in the music business, but she’s more than just rhinestones and big hair.

This sassy lady was reinventing herself before Lady Gaga was born, and has a history of inspiring and supporting other female artists, including current stars like Kesha (with whom she recorded a duet last year of a song Parton first made famous in 1980, “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You“) and Miley Cyrus (with whom she co-wrote the song “Rainbowland“).

Like Taylor Swift, Parton wrote her own hits and made the jump from country to mainstream pop music. And like fellow cross-over artist and American Idol Carrie Underwood, Parton got an early career boost by appearing on TV, on “The Porter Wagoner Show.” (

Behind her over-the-top personality and, yes, sparkles, is a steely determination to rise above the poverty of her childhood in rural Tennessee and take the world on her own terms. “If you don’t like the road you’re walking,” Parton once said, “start paving another one.” Beyond the music, we can learn a lot from her about grit, showmanship, career ownership and using your artist’s voice for greater good.

Parton started her career at about the same age many of our students are now, playing a homemade guitar at age 7, performing professionally at age 10 and earning a recording contract at 14.

Over the years she grew into a country superstar with songs featuring elements of her bluegrass and folk roots. She has occasionally crossed over into pop success, like with her feminist anthem “9 to 5” and the disco-infused “Baby I’m Burning.” Parton also penned and performed “I Will Always Love You,” now indelibly associated with Whitney Houston (and recently covered by Queen Bey herself).

In addition to being a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Parton is also a record producer, actress, author, businesswoman and philanthropist. (Wikipedia)

Whether you go all-out glammed-up country or put a rock & roll spin on it, we can’t wait to see what you do with Parton’s songs.