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Steel Guitarist Don Warden, Dolly Parton’s Longtime Manager, Dead at 87

Don Warden, a lauded steel guitarist and Dolly Parton‘s longtime manager, has died. He was 87 years old at the time of his death on Saturday (March 11).

Born in Mountain Grove, Mo., on March 27, 1929, Warden was a singer and self-taught steel guitar player, according to a remembrance posted on Parton’s official website. In addition to hosting an afternoon radio show on West Plains, Mo.’s KWPM-AM radio station, Warden formed his own band, the Rhythm Rangers, in high school; the group provided backing music for the Wilburn Brothers and Red Sovine on the Louisiana Hayride.

In 1951, Warden joined the Army, in which he served for two years. After leaving the Army, he returned to Missouri to attend flight school — and, while visiting his parents, met Porter Wagoner. Together with Speedy Haworth, the two formed the Porter Wagoner Trio; in 1960, he began his 14-year run on The Porter Wagoner Show.

Warden and Parton met when she joined The Porter Wagoner Show in 1967. Both left the show in 1974, and Warden became Parton’s manager, a position he held for nearly five decades; Parton calls him “like a father, a brother, a partner and one of my best friends.” Warden’s wife Ann, too, became a good friend, helping to decorate Dollywood during its early days; serving on the board of the Dollywood Foundation; and working at Parton’s Tennessee Mountain Home.

When his health began getting in the way of his work, Warden retired. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1957, with Wagoner, and in 2008, he joined the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. Warden last shared the stage with Parton that same year, at a concert at Dollywood honoring Wagoner; there, Parton presented Warden with the Angel Award.

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