A shallow rectangle, just one hundred miles from north to south, TENNESSEE stretches 450 miles from the Mississippi to the Appalachians. The marshy western third of the state occupies a low plateau edging down toward the Mississippi. Only in the far southwest corner do the bluffs rise high enough to permit a sizeable riverside settlement – the exhilarating port of Memphis, the birthplace of urban blues and longtime home of Elvis. The plantation homes and dull, tidy towns of middle Tennessee’s rolling farmland reflect the comfortable lifestyle of its pioneers; smack in the heart of it sprawls hip Nashville, synonymous with country music. The mountainous east shares its top attraction with North Carolina – the peaks, streams and meadows of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Born in 1946, one of twelve children with very limited means, music legend Dolly Parton was delivered in Locust Ridge, Tennessee by a doctor who arrived on horseback and left with a sack of homegrown cornmeal as compensation. As a child she sang every week on local radio, before leaving for Nashville the day after she finished at Sevier County High School. Her first success, duetting with Porter Wagoner, came to an end in the early Seventies, but she scored a major country hit in 1973 with Jolene. She then crossed over to a poppier sound, and, with her charismatic presence, was a natural in Hollywood films including 9 to 5 (the beat for whose theme song she came up with by tapping on her fingernails) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Always a strong-minded and inspirational figure, Dolly has sold more than 100 million records, written more than three thousand songs, and been awarded seven Grammys. Dollywood, her “homespun fun” theme park at 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd in Pigeon Forge (dollywood.com), blends mountain heritage with roller coasters and the merriment of its celebrity shareholder. One section showcases Appalachian crafts; a museum looks at Dolly herself in entertaining detail; music shows are constantly on the go and the thrill rides offer plenty for adrenaline-junkies and kiddies alike. A water park, Dolly’s Splash Country, is adjacent.