There are few names in country songs as powerful as Jolene. Fans have loved the ghost haunting Dolly Parton’s masterpiece for nearly five decades. The tune is as relatable as it is catchy.
But the question that many people ask is whether Jolene was a real person. The story in the song sure makes it seem like she’s a genuine woman.
We’ll explore one of the most famous country ballads of all time to discover the truth behind Jolene.
Let’s hit it!
Who Originally Wrote Jolene?
Jolene isn’t just a karaoke favorite. It’s actually one of the most-covered songs of all time. Dolly Parton recorded the tune on May 22, 1973, and released it later that year in October. It would later reach the top 75 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
Dolly Parton was born in Pittman Center, Tennessee, on January 19, 1946. She was the fourth of 12 children. Her family was very poor, but her parents were resourceful and intelligent. The singer frequently credits her father for her business savvy and her mother for her music skills.
Parton began playing a homemade guitar at age seven. By the time she was 13, she’d already recorded her first original song. Dolly even performed at the Grand Ole Opry around this time, where she met Johnny Cash. The Man in Black told her not to let others interfere with her career and dreams.
The day after she graduated high school, Parton moved to Nashville to become a star. Her first country hit, a song called Dumb Blonde was released in 1967.
Dolly Parton shot to fame when she accepted a duet partnership with The Porter Wagoner Show host. This TV spot led to an artist contract with RCA Records. Her first album, My Tennessee Country Home, came out in 1973. By 1974, four of her songs topped the charts.
Parton began racking up music awards in the mid-1970s. She also starred in TV shows and movies as her career trajectory moved toward film. Dollywood, Parton’s famous theme park, opened in eastern Tennessee in 1985. In addition, she founded several nonprofits, including the Imagination Library and the Dolly Parton Center for Women’s Services.
Today, the singer has her own record label Dolly Records. A musical based on one of Parton’s best-known songs, 9 to 5, debuted on Broadway in 2009. It seems every year brings Parton more well-deserved success. But of all her great accomplishments, writing and recording Jolene is one of the greatest.
Is Jolene About a Real Person?
Like many works of art, Jolene is part fact, part fiction. A ten-year-old fan who asked Parton for her autograph inspired the title. When Dolly asked the girl her name, she said it was Jolene. The singer was struck by the girl’s red hair, green eyes, and pretty name. So Parton vowed to write a song named after her.
However, the song’s content was inspired by a more painful experience. In an interview, Parton explained that shortly after her wedding, she witnessed a bank clerk flirting with her husband. The bank clerk also had red hair. Although her relationship persevered, the singer was haunted by this event.
The songstress spoke about the song in a recent Netflix series called Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings. Ultimately, she explained, it’s about fear and insecurity. She said, “We’ve all felt like we might lose someone we love to someone else because we’re not good enough, and that’s what this song’s really about.”
What Popular Covers Are There of Jolene?
Dolly Parton herself says Jolene is her most frequently covered song. Since 1973, it’s been a great American classic.
Let’s explore some of the most popular covers of this hit tune.
Olivia Newton-John covered Jolene on her 1976 album Come On Over. It’s the first track on the album, but it isn’t the only cover. Some of those covered songs include the old English ballad Greensleeves, and the Beatles’ The Long and Winding Road.
This version of Jolene is pretty faithful to the original. While the music keeps a country twang, there’s a bit of a funky disco sound in the guitar section.
Olivia Newton-John wasn’t the only superstar to cover Jolene. Country queen Reba McEntire recorded a version of the song, which she performed live beginning in the 80s. The cover appears on her 1989 album, Reba Live.
McEntire’s take on the tune is a little slower than the original. The slower speed makes it feel like a traditional ballad. Reba’s version also features banjo more heavily than guitar.
The White Stripes
Parton’s famous song isn’t just a favorite in the country music world. The Detroit two-piece band, The White Stripes, recorded a version of this classic tune. It appears as a b-side on their single, Hello Operator.
Jack and Meg White’s interpretation is straightforward rock. The track is sparse, featuring just guitar, drums, and Jack White’s vocals. It’s not as harmonious as some other versions, but it’s powerful.
What Did Dolly Parton Think of Chapel Hart?
Jolene has had its fair share of covers, but it got an entire makeover in the summer of 2022.
Chapel Hart, a family trio of singers, dazzled TV audiences during their America’s Got Talent audition. The ladies from a small Mississippi town performed an original song called, You Can Have Him, Jolene.
The song was a response to Parton’s original. Trio member Danica Hart explained Chapel Hart adored Jolene, but “from 1973 to 2022 we cannot be fighting over the same man.”
The trio’s song puts a fun twist on the original’s perspective. Rather than being afraid of losing her man, the singer decides Jolene can just have him.
While Dolly Parton didn’t send her husband into Jolene’s arms, she did praise the trio. Parton posted Chapel Hart’s America’s Got Talent Performance, calling it a fun take on her song. And the performance received the show’s highest possible score of Group Golden Buzzer.
What is Dolly Parton Doing Now?
Dolly Parton may be in her mid-70s, but she’s as busy as ever. The country star said she plans to keep playing shows, although she won’t tour again. This may surprise some people, but Parton is currently planning a rock album. In a recent interview with NPR, she listed Miley Cyrus and Ed Sheeran among her dream collaborators.
Parton is keeping busy outside of music too. Earlier this year, she released a novel called Run, Rose, Run, which she co-wrote with James Patterson. The songstress even released an album to accompany the book. In addition, a film adaptation is currently in the works.
Dolly spent the Spring of 2022 in Pigeon Forge, TN, at Dollywood, working on park updates. She referred to the updates as a “facelift.” A new hotel called the HeartSong Lodge and Resort is slated to open in 2023 near the park.
The Enduring Power of Jolene
Dolly Parton’s beloved ballad is almost 50 years old. But it never seems to lose its power. Jolene remains a favorite among karaoke singers, cover musicians, and people of all ages. Even groups like Chapel Hart are adopting Jolene’s mythology and making it their own. The song’s themes and haunting melody will inspire listeners for years to come.
What’s your favorite rendition of Jolene? Let us know in the comments.