Inside Dolly Parton's Relationship With Her Sister Stella Parton

Even before Dolly Parton made it big in the country music world, she had a gaggle of loyal fans by her side: Her brothers and sisters. The country music star has a whopping 11 siblings, ranging from 6 years older to 13 years younger than her. 

Several of Dolly's siblings share her passion for entertaining and have taken their own steps into the music industry. Of these, the most famous might be Stella Parton, who has forged a successful career in her own right. In 1975, Stella founded her record label, Soul, Country and Blues. She then released her debut album, "I Want to Hold You (In My Dreams Tonight)," whose titular single was a major hit. Over the years, she's released 39 albums featuring 32 charting singles. She has also starred in several touring Broadway shows, including "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Pump Boys & Dinettes," and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

Sisterhood isn't always a walk in the park, and that's especially true when both sisters exist in the public sphere. Stella and Dolly Parton haven't always seen eye to eye — but in the end, they always affirm their love for each other. Here, we take a look at the highlights of their sibling relationship.

Stella and Dolly Parton shared a room as children ... which led to some problems

Growing up, the Parton family struggled with extreme poverty. The cabin they lived in didn't have much wiggle room, so Dolly Parton and her siblings had to share a room. This sometimes proved difficult for Stella Parton, whose housekeeping habits were different from Dolly's. In a 2021 interview with Australian talk show Studio 10, Stella shared that Dolly was quite unkempt as a child. "I've always been kind of a neat freak, and she used to be kind of a messy person," Stella said. "I think a lot of that was because she was just so creative and she just had so much going on in her head."

According to Classic Country Music, Stella and Dolly didn't just share a room — they shared a bed with a few other siblings, as well. This arrangement wasn't always fun for Dolly, given that her younger siblings had a habit of wetting the bed. During one of her concerts, Stella gave the crowd some additional insight into this chapter in her life. Stella had recently attended a show where Dolly "got right up on stage in front of everybody ... and told them that we used to pee in the bed when we was little." Stella verified that Dolly's words were true and contributed a detail of her own: "She neglected to tell them that we not only wet the bed, but we used to fight over who peed the biggest circle."

Growing up, Dolly and Stella Parton bickered

It's safe to say that, given their close quarters and strong personalities, sisters Stella and Dolly Parton didn't always get along growing up. In an appearance on the talk show "Vicki!" during the 1990s, Stella elaborated on her relationship with her big sis: "Dolly and I are close to the same age. She's three and a half years older than I am. I was kind of a pain in the butt to her. Because I was so close in age to her, I always wanted to do everything that she was doing."

At school, Stella felt estranged from Dolly because she wasn't quite mature enough to hang with her and her friends. "The main thing that I didn't like was that she loved to tell dirty jokes," she said. She explained that Dolly and her friends sat in the back of the school bus, but made Stella sit in the front away from them because she was too young to hear Dolly tell dirty jokes with the older kids. "That would just drive me crazy," Stella added, saying that this would cause the "bickering of two sisters." Stella always wanted to feel accepted by Dolly's gang, admitting that it was "never going to happen."

In the interview, Stella made sure to emphasize her closeness to Dolly despite it all: "I love her a lot. She loves me a lot, and I think we're a lot alike."

Dolly and Stella Parton started out singing together

Stella and Dolly Parton have always shared a love for singing. In an appearance on the "Porter Wagoner Show," Stella pointed out that they made their debut in the industry together. When Wagoner asked her, "Have you ever sung with Dolly?" she answered in the affirmative. "Yes! As a matter of fact, we started out singing as the original trio, my sisters Cassie, Dolly, and myself."

Stella Parton revealed that she and her sisters were only children when they started singing professionally. They juggled gigs and public appearances with elementary school. "Sometimes at lunch, we'd leave school and go work a radio show," she said, explaining that she and her sisters formed a group called the Vocalaires and began working in television and radio when she was only 9 years old. The sisters three also sang backup on records, adding, "We'd sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks." The trio would record and perform together until Dolly Parton graduated from high school.

Stella Parton's career as a solo musician initially caused some friction between her and Dolly Parton

In 2011, Stella Parton released an autobiography titled "Tell It Sister Tell It: Memories, Music and Miracles." In its pages, she criticized those who assume her sister's stardom has made it easier for her to have a career in the music industry. "Yes, doors have been slammed in my face and there are those who resent me today because they think: 'How dare she try and have a career with Dolly being so successful — I bet she gets handouts all the time — I bet Dolly does everything for her," she wrote in an excerpt obtained by the Daily Mail

She went on to divulge that even her own family hasn't always cheered her on. When she was a single mother taking care of a young child, her uncle, who was working as one of Dolly Parton's managers at the time, tried to dissuade her from pursuing music altogether: "He said, 'You need to take that kid of yours and go back home and work in the beauty shop where you belong.'" Unfortunately, Dolly, who does not have children, wasn't very supportive of Stella in the wake of this incident. "Well Stella, if you are going to sing then you need to change your name," she told her, according to the book.

Stella ultimately ignored Dolly's advice and opted to use her given name rather than a pseudonym. Looks like she made the right move — she's still kicking.

Stella Parton has called herself protective of Dolly Parton

Appearing on talk show "Vicky!" with her siblings in the 1990s, Stella Parton was asked whether she felt protective of Dolly Parton. "Very, very," Stella replied." She added that she had learned not to let tabloid stories about Dolly bother her, however. When host Vicki Lawrence pushed her to clarify, she said that she knew that Dolly was good at brushing off bad press: "I've had my experiences with the tabloids ... and I don't have a really good sense of humor about it. She does more than I do."

Stella said that even though she often worried about Dolly, she opted to keep her concerns to herself to not stress her sister out. "I don't ever talk to her about it," she said. Stella explained that although she was protective of her sister, she opted to not tell Dolly to avoid adding pressure to their situation. "You shoulder a lot of negative stuff yourself that they never know about," she said. 

Stella Parton appeared in a TV movie based on Dolly Parton's song Coat of Many Colors

In 2015, Dolly Parton executive produced the TV movie "Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors," for NBC. Based on the song of the same name, it told the story of Dolly Parton's upbringing in rural Tennessee. Not only did the story feature Stella Parton as a character — Stella also acted in it. She played the role of Corla Bass, a gossipy member of the Partons' church congregation.

In an interview on, Stella shared her admiration for Farrah Mackenzie, the actress who played her younger self. "Farrah Mackenzie did a beautiful job, she's so tender and so sweet and so feminine," she said. She also opened up about the experience of serving as an envoy of the Parton family on set. "I tried to be a representative of the family since I was the only family member there, and since I was the only one who would know everyone in the cast," she said. "I tried to give the kids and the cast some insight into my siblings, parents, grandparents, and aunts. I wanted them to have as much of a personal feeling about [their characters] as they could."

Stella was sure to share her admiration for Dolly in the interview, as well. "I think that everyone wants to see triumph over tragedy ... and I also think Dolly's gift as a songwriter is [interweaving] that throughout the thread of the story."

Dolly and Stella Parton recorded a song about their support for each other

In 2016, Stella and Dolly Parton joined forces by recording a duet called "More Power to Ya." Per Australian talk show Studio 10, the song is a celebration of the sisters' bond, named after the motto they use to show their support for each other. "We'll always say that to each other, like if we've got a new project or something," Stella explained on the show. "'More power to ya! More power to ya!' That's basically where the idea came from." They introduced the single to the show's viewers with a slideshow depicting the sisters' bond over the years, complete with family photos and footage from their early television performances.

The song's chorus is rife with inspirational mantras. "More power to ya, stand up and make a choice," the sisters sing, beautifully harmonizing. "More power to ya, speak up and find your voice. More power to ya, reach out and grab a hold. More power to ya, you're stronger than you know."

Stella and Dolly Parton both love to cook — but Stella thinks she does a better job

Stella and Dolly Parton don't just share a love for music, they also share a passion for cooking. Stella has released several cookbooks, starting with "Really Cookin' with Stella Parton" in 1990. Meanwhile, Dolly is working on a cookbook called "Good Lookin' Cookin'," which will feature revamped versions of recipes taken from her official theme park's cookbook, "Dollywood Presents Tennessee Mountain Home Cooking."

In 2018, Stella decided to put her kitchen expertise to the test by participating in a season of Celebrity MasterChef. In an interview, Stella said that judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace were "adorable" but emphasized how stressful the show was overall (via the Irish News). "To me, the kitchen has always been a place of therapy, and I think of it as a place to zone out and create something nourishing and to lay on a celebration for people I love. So in a way, MasterChef was a gobsmack to me ... It was like having a baby, I would almost rather have had a baby than do MasterChef. There were certainly labor pains!"

Although Stella found the experience challenging, she insisted that Dolly wouldn't have had an easier time in her shoes. "I would say I'm a better cook than her. I don't need her advice! And I don't think she would have done better than me in that kitchen, it would have freaked her out, as well."

Dolly Parton and her sister Stella Parton clashed over the #MeToo movement

In 2019, Stella and Dolly Parton had a public clash in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In an interview with the Guardian, Dolly danced around political issues, trying not to step on any toes. When interviewer Hadley Freeman asked if she identified as a feminist, she was hesitant to box herself in: "I mean, I must be if being a feminist means I'm all for women, yes. But I don't feel I have to march, hold up a sign, or label myself ... I'm just all for gals." Later in the interview, she explained the source of her hesitation: "I've got as many Republican friends as I've got Democrat friends, and I just don't like voicing my opinion on things. I've seen things before, like the Dixie Chicks. You can ruin a career for speaking out."

The following week, Stella Parton appeared on CountryLine's OurStories podcast with some choice words for her sister. "I'm ashamed of my sister for keeping her mouth shut. She can run it when it is about something else, but speak up about injustice, Dolly Parton ... Defend women, and don't just do it in a little song." She went on to say that, while she doesn't typically like to criticize Dolly in the public sphere, desperate times call for desperate measures: "This is the first time I've really publicly called my sister out. But it's high time that some of these older women speak up and speak out."

Stella Parton defended Dolly Parton against critics after her halftime show performance

Even though Stella and Dolly Parton have had a few spats, Stella is quick to defend her big sis when she feels that she's being unfairly criticized. She made this clear in November 2023, when Dolly's sartorial choices came into question.

On November 23, 2023, Dolly Parton took to the field for a halftime performance during the Thanksgiving Day game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Commanders. She showed her pride for her favorite team by dressing as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, with a cropped white vest and shorts speckled with blue stars.

Even though Dolly covered up by wearing a bedazzled bodysuit underneath her fit, some thought that her outfit was too revealing. Stella took to X (formerly known as Twitter) to admonish the naysayers with a strongly worded post. "I personally thought my big sister Dolly was cute as hell in her Dallas Cowboys cheerleading costume at the halftime show on Thanksgiving," she wrote. "To those of you being so critical of a 77-year-old kicking up her heels, I say f*** yourself. Shame on you not her." In the end, it seems, sisterhood will always prevail.