Some songs can take years to write, while others can be crafted in just a few hours. However, there are few songs woven in what seems to be a moment’s time. Dolly’s much-loved ‘Coat of Many Colors’ is once such song.
Dolly’s Most Favorite Composition
As she described on a number of occasions, ‘Coat of Many Colors’ is the personal favorite among all the songs she wrote. On a tour bus, she composed the song while traveling with Porter Wagoner in 1969. In her 1994 ‘My Life and Other Unfinished Business’ memoir, she cited how it happened. She could find no paper as the song came to her. Consequently, writing on the back of a dry cleaning receipt from one of Wagoner’s suit, the song undeniably became a hit. Of course, Wagoner put the receipt on a frame.
In April 1971, she recorded the song making it the title song for her ‘Coat of Many Colors album’. It reached number 4 on the U.S. country singles charts.
The song tells of how Parton’s mother stitched a coat for Dolly out of rags given to the family. While sewing, she tells the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Dolly with patches on her britches and holes in both her shoes dashed to school, just to find the others teasing and laughing at her for wearing a coat made of rags.
Coat of Many Colors, Song of Many Inspirations
Dolly Parton would present this song in concerts as “a true story about a little patchwork coat my Momma made me from a box of rags”. Parton kept the famous coat, which later became a popular attraction at her Dollywood Museum, where it is kept in an exhibit along with her handwritten lyrics to the song. Even after Parton became a huge star, this song remained her favorite out of the 3000+ songs she had written, saying,
“It tells about the people I grew up with, it speaks well of my family and particularly my mother and my spiritual values too. I can always sing that sincerely from my heart.”
Its biblical counterpart, Joseph’s coat of many colors is in Genesis 37:3. While Dolly Parton’s patchwork coat inspired mockery, Joseph’s inspired envy. Truly, it’s more than a song. It’s an attitude. It’s a philosophy. It speaks about how great a family is. It’s anti-bullying. It just covers so many things. It reminds people to love one another for who and what we are, and to celebrate our differences.
But they didn’t understand it, and I tried to make them see
One is only poor, only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money, but I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors my momma made for me.
We are not all the same. But as the above stanza says, we are only poor if we choose to be poor. If we are rich in love and family, nothing can ever tear us apart.
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