Dolly Parton has been associated with the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years with “Dolly Parton: 50 years at the Opry.” It is a two-hour special airing tonight on NBC.
But at a press event before going to the new special event, Dolly expressed her feelings on association with the Opry. She didn’t hesitate to add another 10 years to that number. She said, “A lot of people think this is my 50th year at the Grand Ole Opry. It’s actually been 60, because the first time I got to sing on the Opry, I was 13 years old. But then the night that I became a member after I was working with ‘The Peter Wagoner Show and got to be actually a member 50 years ago this year was one of the highlights of my whole life because it was a true dream of mine.”
While Parton was officially inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1969 at the Opry’s original home of the Ryman Auditorium, her journey with the Opry dates back to childhood. Parton shared that growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, her father was a loyal listener of the beloved country music-themed show that’s aired on WSM radio since 1925. She recalled memories of her and her uncle Bill Owens making the three-hour drive from her native Sevierville, Tenn. to Nashville to watch the Opry show backstage, Parton dreaming of one day performing on the stage herself.
“We’d come down to Nashville back and forth in an old, beat-up car, sleeping in the backseat, and go to the Grand Ole Opry, wait backstage, looking at all the greats. That was always my dream. My daddy loved the Grand Ole Opry, so we had to listen to it back home, and me dreaming of being on it and I just remember that being special.”
That dream became reality when she made her Opry debut as a teen in 1959, with Jimmy C. Newman giving up his spot one night so she could perform, with Johnny Cash introducing her on stage.