The sixth of Robert and Avie Lee Parton's 12 children, Stella Parton was born and raised in tiny Sevierville, Tenn., between the Smoky Mountains and the Little Pigeon Forge River.
It was always a musical family.
She had a Top Ten hit in 1976 with "I Want to Hold You in My Dreams Tonight," landed on the charts a few more times, and enjoyed a reasonably splendid career throughout the 1980s. She continues to write, record and tour.
But Stella Parton - yes, Dolly is one of her older sisters - is also the author of several successful cookbooks, and her autobiography Tell It Sister, Tell It (2011) was praised for its winning combination of candor, humor, spirituality and philanthropy.
Parton will perform Aug. 3 at Randy Wood Guitars in Bloomingdale.
We caught up with her by phone, at her Nashville home.
Why did you write the book?
Stella Parton: I was going through a time of introspection, re-assessing my career and my journey so far. It started out to be just a book of inspiration I was going to call Everyday Miracles Even Now and Then. I was working on a degree in biblical studies and I got inspired to write the book from that angle. Then once I got into it I thought "You know, people probably would like to know a little bit about my career, and a little bit about my family." I thought there was a lot of stuff I could tell that might help some people, stuff that might surprise that somebody in my situation has gone through things that maybe they're going through.
Because of all the charity work that you do to combat domestic violence, I have to ask: Is it part of your own story?
Stella Parton: It's definitely part of the story. It's such a horrible thing to happen to anyone, and there's so much shame attached to abuse, whether it's rape, sexual assaults, mental abuse, verbal abuse ... the person that's being abused ends up feeling that somehow they could've fixed it. Ninety-eighty percent of the people in relationship abuse are women. And that's because women are natural-born fixers - they think that somehow they should've fixed it. But that's not true.
I had a personal experience myself. I was actually kidnapped and taken out of the country by a man who I had been engaged to. I had broken off the engagement, but he forced me out of the country against my will. People at the airport didn't help me, because they thought it was a domestic dispute.
And afterwards, I didn't make a scene in Nashville at the airport - I didn't want to be on the 6 o'clock news locally, because I didn't want Dolly's name attached to it. I didn't want her embarrassed, or people saying "That's Dolly Parton's sister! Blah, blah, blah ..." You do a lot to protect family members. My son was young at the time, and he was in a private school 20 minutes outside of Nashville, and if it had been on the news he would have been horrified.
What kind of a relationship do you have with Dolly?
Stella Parton: Well, we've always had what I would call a big sister/little sister relationship. But it's a sibling relationship, and it's very loving. I'm very protective over her, and she's very protective over me. I think I've been a pain in her butt because people ask her about me ... her career was one thing, mine was another. I was a single mother; I never saw myself as an aspiring star. I've always just been a working artist. And that's just what I am today - a working artist and a motivational person.
I've always seen myself as a messenger of hope. Dolly's always enjoyed the spotlight. I'm kind of a shy person, actually. If it's my turn, I'll go and do what I need to do. I think I've always been a good entertainer, but I don't have to have the spotlight.
What's bringing you to the Savannah area?
Stella Parton: I know Randy Wood from when he had a music store here in Nashville. As a matter of fact, the first guitar I ever had made - I'm left-handed - Randy made for me. I never had a guitar till I was in my 20s. I'm bringing it down there for him to work on. He's one of the best luthiers in the industry.
Are you bringing a band?
Stella Parton: I'm going to basically be doing a book signing, and a few acoustic songs. And I'm bringing a girl that used to be in my band, she's a really good guitar player, and she and I are just gonna sit down and play a few acoustic things. So I thought well, I'm not gonna bring a band. See, I work with a four or five-piece band, pianos and a big set of drums and all that, but I'm not gonna do that kind of show. I'm just gonna sit down and tell some stories, play some original material, Diane'll play some guitar along with me. I'll sell some books, answer questions ... it'll be kinda like a parlor show. That's what I call it.
Where: Randy Wood Guitars, 1304 E. U.S. 80, Bloomingdale
When: At 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3
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