Dolly Parton may be a national treasure, but don’t overlook the rest of the Parton pack. Multiple members of the family (and there are lots of them) have proven to be just as talented as Dolly. Some followed in her musical footsteps, and others pursued different paths, but all of them overcame hardship to become an unforgettable family name. Find out more about Dolly Parton’s siblings and their contributions to American culture.
Dolly Parton Comes From A Massive, Hard Working Family
To understand the extraordinary nature of Dolly’s success, you have to know the circumstances of her early life. The Partons grew up in extreme poverty, with no electricity or indoor plumbing. The patriarch, Robert Lee Parton, came from a family of sharecroppers and abandoned school at an early age. As a result, he never learned to read or write.
As an adult, he farmed tobacco and raised livestock on his own plot of land in East Tennessee. He married Avie Lee Caroline, who gave birth to 12 children by the time she was 35 (Dolly is the fourth). Check them out in this crowded family photo:
Despite his illiteracy, Robert Lee worked hard to provide for his family. He supplemented farm work with construction jobs, and Dolly looks back at his efforts with nothing but gratitude.
“We had a roof over our head, I always say, even if it did leak,” Dolly told Morley Safer on 60 Minutes in 2009. “We had something to eat on our table, even if it wasn’t exactly what we wanted, had a bed to sleep in, even if there was a bunch of us in it.”
Dolly Parton’s Siblings
Willadeene, born on March 24, 1940, is the first of 12 Parton children and is the author of two books. Smoky Mountain Memories: Stories from the Hearts of the Parton Family provides a close look at the family’s life and history in rural Tennessee. And the cookbook All-Day Singing and Dinner on the Ground features family recipes that are over a century old.
According to Dolly’s own website, Willadeene acted “as a second mother to her younger siblings.” Actress Carson Meyer, who portrays the first Parton child in Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, suggested that Willadeene was also sentimental and sensitive.
“I loved that she kept the letters from her sisters and kind of held all those memories so dear to her,” said Meyer. “And then Stella [Parton] being on set told me great stories about her sister. One of my favorite’s is that Willadeene would put perfume on the girls before she would go out which would always make them happy.”
David Wilburn Parton
David was born on March 30, 1942. According to a site that tracks Smoky Mountain ancestry, he married Maggie Ann “Pat” Maples in 1962 and the couple had three children (one stillborn.)
Unlike the majority of his siblings, David did not go into entertainment as a profession. He lives a private life away from the spotlight.
Coy Denver Parton
Third-born child Coy was born on August 16, 1943. Like his older brother, he didn’t pursue a show biz career. However, we do know that he named one of his two daughters after his little sister Dolly.
Bobby Lee Parton
The Parton’s fifth child and third son Bobby Lee was born on February 18, 1948. He married Doris Noland in 1967, but the couple divorced in 1982. They had two kids, Clint and Danielle. But just like his two big brothers, Bobby lived a relatively low profile life.
Stella Mae Parton
Stella is the firecracker of family. Like Dolly, she took to music at an early age. Her first album, In the Garden, was a gospel collaboration with her mother and sisters (Willadeene and Cassie). But she found modest success as a solo country artist in the 1970s. Her single “I Want to Hold You in My Dreams Tonight” was a Top Ten country hit, and she released a total of 30 albums to date.
Like Willadeene, Stella is also a cookbook author. She even took her kitchen skills to BBC’s Celebrity MasterChef in 2018. These days, she seems to divide her time between helping the less fortunate and having some fun on Twitter.
Cassie Nan Parton
Cassie, 70, never had a solo career, but appeared to dabble in music. For instance, she joined sisters Stella and Dolly to perform “Break My Mind” on the Porter Wagoner Show in 1970:
And in 2013, she was a featured vocalist at Dollywood’s “My People” show. Outside of her occasional performance, Cassie seems to have dedicated her life to being a wife and mother. She married former Alabama policeman Larry Seaver and has two children, Bryan and Rebecca.
Randy was the eighth of the twelve Parton children, and the first boy in the family to pursue a music career. Randy released a number of country singles in the 1970s and ’80s, but his best-known release was “Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle To You”— a duet with Dolly. He also sang on the soundtrack to her 1984 film Rhinestone.
Randy died in January 2021 after a battle with cancer.
“The family and I are grieving his loss but we know he is in a better place than we are at this time,” Dolly wrote on social media. “We are a family of faith and we believe that he is safe with God and that he is joined by members of the family that have gone on before and have welcomed him with joy and open arms… We will always love him and he will always be in our hearts.”
The story of Larry’s life is a heartbreaking one. He was the ninth of the Parton children, but he died only four days after his birth. The loss hit Dolly particularly hard because she was assigned a special role as his big sister.
“My mother, through the years, when we were born, since there were so many of us, used to say, ‘This one is gonna be you baby,’” Parton explained in 2015. “That just meant that you got to take extra care of it. You have got to get up with it at night and rock it back and forth. This particular baby that passed away… was my baby.”
The singer included a scene about Larry’s brief life in the biopic A Coat of Many Colors. In it, actress Alyvia Alyn Lind portrays a 9-year-old version of Dolly, who sings by her deceased brother’s grave.
“All things are hard, but that is what makes your memories,” said Dolly. “That is what makes you who and what you are.”
Floyd, born on June 1, 1957, was the last male child of Alvie and Robert Lee. Like his sisters and Randy, he had a knack for making music. Floyd was Dolly’s longtime writing partner and was responsible for some of her hit songs. He wrote “Rockin’ Years” for Dolly’s album Eagle When She Flies, and co-wrote “Nickels and Dimes” from the 1978’s Heartbreaker.
Unfortunately, Floyd passed away in December 2018 at age 61. His obituary remembered him as “a renaissance man…a man of many talents and areas of knowledge. He was an avid outdoorsman and had an abundant knowledge of nature as well as being an incredible cook. Floyd was a talented songwriter and composer.”
Freida Estelle Parton and Rachel Dennison
The last addition to the Parton crew was a two-for-one: twins Freida and Rachel were born on August 31, 1959.
Freida was the rebel of the family. She left home at 13 to live with Dolly in Nashville, and when she recorded her first album, she surprised audiences with a hard rock sound. Freida lived a wild life, posing for Playboy and marrying (and divorcing) three times. But her family was a solid support system, and after she filed for bankruptcy in 1986, she rebuilt her life by performing at Dollywood.
Rachel fared slightly better in her show biz career. From 1992 to 1998, she starred in the television series 9 to 5. She played Doralee Rhodes, the character Dolly portrayed in the hit film of the same name. It was the only acting job in her career, but Rachel continued to work with Dolly as a makeup artist. She also occasionally joins family members for live performances.