The Words and Music of Dolly Parton
Getting to Know Country's 'Iron Butterfly'
by Nancy Cardwell
July 2011, 178pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-37803-4
$55, £43, 48€, A76
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eBook Available: 978-0-313-37804-1
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Strikingly beautiful, with a blond mane, an infectious giggle, and the instincts of a captain of industry, Dolly Parton is one of the most successful and beloved singer/songwriters, not just in country music, but in the entire entertainment industry. What special combination of talent and intelligence fuels her music and underlies her drive?

This insightful biography provides a closer look at one of the entertainment world's biggest stars, with a focus on what got her to the top—and what has kept her there.

Dolly Parton has an enviable record of accomplishment as a performer, songwriter, recording artist, businesswoman, and philanthropist. She has triumphed on Broadway, in the movies, and even with her own theme park. The Words and Music of Dolly Parton probes its subject’s unique singing voice and prolific abilities as a songwriter, as well as her impressive business savvy, fearless attitude, and an imagination as towering as the Smoky Mountains among which she grew up.

This book focuses on Parton’s most important albums and songwriting style, examining her career from her early days in the east Tennessee mountains through her national television exposure on the Porter Wagoner Show, her crossover success in pop music, and her return to her acoustic/bluegrass roots. In addition, it explores Parton’s story songs and characters, the spirituality reflected in her music, and her important collaborations with other artists.


  • Rare photographs of Parton's early career from legendary photographer Les Leverett, retired staff photographer for the Grand Ole Opry
  • Interviews with many of Parton's collaborators over the years, including producers, engineers, and other artists
  • A discography of Dolly Parton's albums and hit songs and a list of her awards
Nancy Cardwell edits publications and manages professional development, leadership, and youth programs for the International Bluegrass Music Association in Nashville, TN. She is also a freelance musician, songwriter, and journalist. Originally from the Missouri Ozarks, Cardwell grew up in an old-time, bluegrass family band and has worked as a teacher and a professional Girl Scout. She is the 2006 recipient of the Charles Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism from the International Country Music Academic Conference and a graduate of both Leadership Music and Leadership Bluegrass. Cardwell holds a BS in education from Northwest Missouri State University.


"Nancy Cardwell has written an informing and heartwarming book about the greatest female singing songwriter ever, the inimitable Dolly Parton. Part history but mostly 'her story,' each page is a learning tool exploring and explaining how and why Dolly did what she did to reach a plateau of prosperity as a female in the male-dominated world of show biz. Born dirt poor but always rich in spirit, Cardwell touches on how success has not changed the heart of the girl from east Tennessee. Dolly continues to tour and tend to her businesses, doing and dreaming, writing and singing, never forgetting from whence she came … and always living by faith. A most worthwhile volume for fans and for students of country music."—Hazel Smith, host of Hot Dish with Hazel Smith, CMT

“Reading this book is like discovering Dolly Parton all over again. Besides compiling and annotating Parton's vast catalog of recorded songs—a scholarly tour de force in itself—Cardwell has gleaned stories and insights directly from many of the people who helped shape the legendary performer's career. It's an achievement both useful and delightful.”—Edward Morris, Senior Writer for

“We are avid fans of the writing of Nancy Cardwell. The focus of her book is on Dolly Parton’s music and her songwriting. If you’re interested in the songwriting, poet heart of Dolly, behind the glittering show-biz image, then this is the book to read. For those of you who still like to stand in record stores and flip through LPs endlessly, if you plan to spend some time in the ‘P’ section of the country music bins checking out Dolly’s music, this book will be a good guide. Dolly is in the same league as Bill Monroe, Carter & Ralph Stanley, Elvis, and Vincent Van Gogh. We as a species on the planet only get one of each. To whom can we compare them?” —Dixie and Tom T. Hall (Country Music Hall of Fame) & Dixie Hall, Good Home Grown Music, Blue Circle Records
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