Skip to main content

Entertainment legend, philanthropist and East Tennessee native Dolly Parton will be honored by UT Knoxville with only the second honorary degree ever granted by the campus.

Parton, whose musical career has spanned more than five decades and 3,000 original musical compositions, is one of the most recognizable figures in American culture. Parton will receive an honorary doctorate from UT Knoxville, pending approval by the UT Board of Trustees at their meeting in Memphis on Feb. 26.

“Because of her career not just as a musician and entertainer, but for her role as a cultural ambassador, philanthropist and lifelong advocate for education, it is fitting that Dolly be honored with an honorary degree from the flagship educational institution of her home state,” said UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek.

“It is an incredible honor for me to receive this degree from a prestigious university like UT. I’ve been a Volunteer all my life and entertained folks around the world with ‘Rocky Top,'” Parton joked. “Seriously, education and the arts are very important to me, and this degree is something that makes me and would have made my parents very proud.”

Parton’s philanthropic work has centered on the importance of reading and education in the lives of children. In 1996, she founded the Imagination Library program in Sevier County, which provides children with a new age-appropriate book every month from birth to 5 years of age.

That program now has grown to serve 1,000 communities in 47 states, the United Kingdom and Canada, including all 95 counties in Tennessee through a partnership with the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation. By mid-2009, the Dollywood Foundation will have distributed more than 20 million books.

For more than 30 years, she also has provided incentives for graduation and college scholarships for Sevier County students, giving them opportunities beyond high school and a chance for a college education.

Parton often has provided funds to local schools to support operating expenses at times when budgets were tight. In addition to her many contributions to education, she also donated $1 million through a concert and her Dollywood and Dixie Stampede companies to construct the hospital and a women’s health center in Sevier County.

The formal degree of a doctorate of humane and musical letters would be awarded to Parton at the UT Knoxville College of Arts and Sciences spring commencement ceremony on May 8. Approval by the UT Board of Trustees is a final step in the process of granting the degree.

The only other recipient of an honorary degree from UT Knoxville was former U.S. Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., who received a doctorate of humane letters in May 2005.

Parton’s other achievements include winning the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, the Living Legend award from the Library of Congress, membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, along with seven Grammy Awards, 10 Country Music Association Awards and two Oscar nominations.