Dolly Parton Says Giving Back Has Nothing To Do With Being Rich

Country superstar Dolly Parton may have 25 #1 singles and 41 top 10 county albums under her belt, but the “Queen of Country Music” is just as legendary for her philanthropy.

Inspired by her father, Parton created the Imagination Library, a literacy program to share her love of reading with countless children across the United States.

“Well, it all goes back to my Daddy,” Parton told exclusively. “He was the smartest man I ever knew, but he couldn’t read or write very much. He was a good provider for us, but I often wondered just how far he could have gone if he could read or write.”

The Imagination Library got its start in 1996, with Parton sending out a brand-new book every month to every child under five in her native Sevier County, TN. “Everything I do is personal to me so I felt the Imagination Library would be the perfect thing to do—to honor him and to hopefully inspire kids to love to read,” Parton explained. “Later on, not long before he passed away, he told me that he was more proud of the Imagination Library than anything else I had ever done. So I guess if you make your Daddy proud of you, then you must be doing something right.”

Parton’s love of literature started with the children’s classic "The Little Engine That Could." “It was the one book that Dolly remembers having access to as a child,” David Dodson, president of the Dollywood Foundation, tells “She wasn’t read to very often, because they didn’t have books in her home. But she loved that book and loved the message in it. Since we started the Imagination Library, we’ve probably given away over five million copies of ‘The Little Engine That Could.’”

Parton, 65, said her generosity was born from her humble roots. “I think your values are always influenced by your family and your community,” she said. “We grew up poor and most everybody around me was just as poor. Even the ants never took away crumbs from our house cause they saw how poor we were!”

“It’s hard to describe fully what Dolly Parton means to people here,” says Dodson. “She’s the true hero of Sevier County, and all of Eastern Tennessee.”

“Funny thing is that the poorer people are, the more generous they seem to be,” Parton laughed. “We were always helping people and people were always helping us. It also gave me the belief that all of the things we own and possess can be gone in an instant.”

Parton has learned that being generous has its own rewards. “I am blessed. I love what I do, I have had success and I am a genuinely happy person," said Parton. “I often joke that 100 years from now I hope people are saying, ‘Dang, she looks good for her age!’ But seriously, when I leave this Earth, I hope that my journey made things just a little bit better.”