For country music superstar Dolly Parton, the road to fame began 61 years ago, with a small doll and a big dream.
As the fourth of 12 children from a poor family in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Parton grew up loving music, and wrote her first song at the age of 4.
Dolly PartonWhen: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28
Where: Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont
Tickets and more information: $58-$148. Call (800) 745-3000, or go to ticketmaster.com or jamusa.com. Tickets can also be purchased at dollypartonmusic.net.
"I used to rhyme stuff all the time. I was always going around singing," Parton, 65, recalled in a recent telephone interview. "The first song I wrote was about a little cob doll I had. I remember that doll, and I remember my mama keeping the words to my song."
Today, Parton can look back on a treasure trove of awards and nominations she has received over the decades for her songwriting and singing. Hits like "Jolene," "I Will Always Love You" and "9 to 5" have brought her Grammy, Country Music and American Music Awards, along with Academy Award nominations -- and worldwide fame.
But the little girl she once was -- the girl with patched clothes who simply loved to sing -- is never far from Parton's heart.
"I think about that little girl. I see her all the time. She's the one who keeps me sane," Parton said. "I think back to that girl, standing on the porch, singing to the children and the animals, using a tobacco stick for a microphone. In this business, people can get calloused and hardened. So I keep the child that I was inside me, and I remember what it is I always wanted."
Parton is currently traveling the world with her Better Day concert tour. The show stops at the Rosemont Theatre on Thursday, July 28.
Her "Better Day" CD was released in June.
For Parton, known for her sunny disposition, the Better Day tour and CD were aptly named: She says she wants to bring happiness to people in difficult times.
"As an artist and songwriter, you try to think about what your audience would like to hear. Things are so glum lately with the economy and all of the recent storms and the doomsday talk. I thought, 'I don't have the heart to write any sad songs.' So I wrote some uplifting songs with a ray of hope and a bit of promise."
Parton writes nearly every day -- and says she has boxes, drawers and suitcases overflowing with her music and lyrics.
"It's just a way of life with me," she said. "I write all the time. That's how I express myself. It's my therapy, my fun, my joy. Everything is a song for me."
Along with her music, Parton has become a well-known actress over the years, receiving Golden Globe nominations for her roles in films such as "Nine to Five" (1980) and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (1982).
In 2012, Parton will again head to the big screen with singer/actress Queen Latifah in the feature film "Joyful Noise." Parton and Latifah portray two women in a small Georgia town, trying to save a church choir after the death of its director. Parton penned four songs for the film's score.
Other current projects include "9 to 5: The Musical," the touring show based on the hit 1980 film, for which Parton wrote the score.
And she has begun what she refers to as a dream project -- writing her life story as a musical for the stage.
Parton also keeps busy with her business ventures. She serves as co-owner of The Dollywood Company which oversees the Dollywood theme park, Dollywood's Splash Country water park and Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede dinner theater, all in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
When she steps away from the spotlight, Parton likes to return home to her husband of 45 years, Carl Thomas Dean -- the man she met at the Wishy-Washy Laundromat in 1964, on her very first day in Nashville.
"People would be surprised to know how private I am when I go home and close the door on that world out there," she said. "My very private, personal self is very calm. I love to cook and do real things ... hang around with my husband and our nieces and nephews."
But it's not long before Parton is back on the road.
"I have never had a desire or a dream outside of (show) business," Parton said. "I just always wanted to be singing and writing my music. And even if I had not made it in this business, I would still be singing. I might be working at the bars at night -- or I might be a beautician. But I would be singing wherever I was."