On Jan. 4, 1969, Dolly Parton was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
Parton’s Opry honor came after the musician released three albums in 1968: Just Because I’m a Woman, her second solo album (and first full-length for RCA Records), and two duet albums with Porter Wagoner, Just Between You and Me and Just the Two of Us. The latter two LPs spawned three Top 10 country chart hits, while the title track of her solo effort landed in the Top 20.
“It was always my dream to be on the Opry,” Parton recalls. “They call it the ‘Mother Church’ because the old Ryman was a church, but it’s sacred to me, wherever it goes — the church of my heart. For me, the Opry is like the song “New York, New York” — if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”
Parton’s 1969 induction wasn’t the first time she stepped foot on the Grand Ole Opry’s hallowed stage: In 1959, Parton and her uncle, Bill Owens, were guests on the show, in place of Jimmy C. Newman. Johnny Cash even introduced the then-teenager by saying, “We’ve got a little girl here from up in East Tennessee. Her daddy’s listening to the radio at home, and she’s gonna be in real trouble if she doesn’t sing tonight, so let’s bring her out here.”
Parton — who sang George Jones‘ “You Gotta Be My Baby” that night, and reportedly received three encores — was immediately hooked. She later recalled, ”As I heard the band play my introduction, I lifted my head and looked up toward the lights. I smiled at the people in the balcony and then let ‘er rip.”
To celebrate Parton’s half-century membership milestone, the Grand Ole Opry planned Dolly Week 2019, a multi-night event featuring stars performing Parton’s No. 1 hits; a concert, dubbed “Dolly’s Mountain Soul,” that will celebrate her roots in bluegrass and Americana; and two performances from Parton herself. One of the celebratory events became the NBC TV special Dolly Parton: 50 Years at the Opry.
“When they said, ‘It’s your 50th anniversary, you have to do something special,’ I said, ‘I don’t even want people to think I’m 50 years old!'” Parton joked backstage during the celebration. “This is so exciting, and so many people stepped up to be on the show to help me celebrate.”
PICTURES: The Grand Ole Opry Through the Years