The Best Advice Dolly Parton Learned from Her Mama

Dolly shares her favorite lessons from her mama.

Alanna Nash
Dolly Parton sitting outside on blanket
David McClister

Country icon Dolly Parton isn’t slowing down a bit. She’s a strong, “good ol’ Southern gal,” as she puts it, who has never shied away from hard work or making her dreams come true. We sat down with the megastar in the Dolly Suite of her DreamMore Resort in Pigeon Forge, TN, to chat about her mama, growing up in a large family, and some of her biggest dreams (spoiler alert: we’re pretty sure they’ve all come true). 

Q: What’s the best advice your mother, Avie Lee Parton, ever gave you?
A: Well, my mother was wonderful. Mama was just one of those people. She was very outgoing. I’m very much like Mama. I’m very verbal—you can take me or leave me, if you like me or not. I think Mama tried to instill that old saying, “To thine own self be true,” in all of us. She said, “Don’t try to be what somebody else wants you to be. Listen to your heart, and to what God tells you to do. And listen to me as much as you will. But be yourself.” I think that that’s followed me more than anything.

Q: You’ve shown that you can be both smart and beautiful. But what does being a strong Southern woman mean to you?
A: It’s just natural for me. I grew up with a bunch of strong Southern women. Some of my great heroes are my mom, my grandmas, and my aunt Dorothy Jo [Owens], who was a Pentecostal preacher and a wonderful songwriter. The women kept the families going. So I really am just proud to be a good ol’ Southern gal. Sometimes when I’m cooking, I think, “I’m just an ol’ country woman.” And I really am in my spirit and in my heart. Because I see so much of my family in the things that I do. And I love and embrace that.

Q: You grew up in a large family. Did you have bigger dreams than the others?
A: Well, Mama’s people were all very musical. We got that naturally, too. So I don’t know that I was any more special than anybody else. I just took it more serious at times than some of the others did. When I learned to play the guitar, I started writing songs. I have a sister and two brothers older, and eight kids younger, so I was in that little spot where the only attention I was going to get was what I got for myself. I started seeing right away that people noticed me playing and writing songs. When people would come around, Mama’d say, “You gotta hear this little song Dolly wrote!” I loved it, of course, and I thought, “Well, I’ll stay with it.” And I just never let up. So I think that’s probably the difference. They’re all as talented, and some of them have done really well. It’s just that I never got sidetracked. I never stopped.

Q: You’ve done so much for East Tennessee, not just with your theme park, Dollywood, but with your creation of jobs through your various enterprises. This was one of your big dreams, wasn’t it?
A: Yes. It was a dream of mine to come back and do something great. And too, the Bible says, “Honor your father and your mother,” and I wanted to bring honor to their name. I certainly did not create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States. I just knew it was a good place to have a business, and provide jobs. But we don’t just take. We do a lot of [charitable] work through the Dollywood Foundation, with our Imagination Library scholarships. But I cannot take all the credit for everything. I’ve been blessed with great partners who make me look really good.

Hear more about family traditions and Dolly's year to come.