National Medal of Arts

Dolly Parton is one of country music's most creative singer-songwriters. Country music knows no more eloquent performer so deeply rooted in the southern experience.

A child of the Appalachian Mountains and the daughter of a poor sharecropper, she turned her working-class origins into a series of compelling musical vignettes such as "My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy" and "Coat of Many Colors," performed in an indelibly distinctive voice steeped in bluegrass and gospel.

The fourth of 12 children, Parton came from a family that struggled to survive throughout her childhood, and she often was ridiculed for her poverty. When she was seven, her uncle Bill Owens gave her a guitar and within three years she became a regular on WIVK Knoxville's "The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour." Over the next two years, her career steadily increased, and in 1959 she made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry; the following year, she recorded her first single, "Puppy Love" for Goldband.

After graduating high school, Parton moved to Nashville where she signed to Combine Music publishing house and then Monument Records. Parton's breakthrough single, "Dumb Blonde," was released early in 1967. Porter Wagoner hired Parton to appear on his syndicated television show where the duo's first single, "The Last Thing on My Mind," reached the country Top Ten early in 1968, launching a six-year streak of virtually uninterrupted Top Ten singles, including "Jolene" which reached number one in 1974.

Parton became a genuine superstar in 1977, with the song "Here You Come Again" became a huge crossover hit and went gold. Parton's commercial success continued to grow during 1980, as she had three number one hits in a row: the Donna Summer-written "Starting Over Again," "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You," and "9 to 5." The latter was the theme song to Parton's acting debut, 9 to 5 with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. In 1994, she published her autobiography, My Life and Other Unfinished Business.

Her entire life, Dolly Parton has invested in her community and in Tennessee. A strong advocate for reading, she created the Imagination Library which mails all preschoolers in Sevier County, Tennessee a free book every month until their fifth birthday. She built Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee in 1985.

In 2004, Dolly Parton was awarded the Living Legend medal by the U.S. Library of Congress for her contributions to the cultural heritage of the United States.