This song was written and recorded during the time Parton was leaving her one-time singing partner and manager Porter Wagoner. It became the first of five consecutive No. 1 Country hits and created momentum as Dolly embarked on her solo career. It was also the only one out of the five to cross over to the American Pop charts.
The story of this song started with the inspiration of the title that came from a 10-year-old girl fan of Dolly Parton. “She had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes, and she was looking up at me, holding [out] for an autograph,” Parton recalled in an interview back in 2008. “I said, ‘Well, you’re the prettiest little thing I ever saw. So what is your name?’ And she said, ‘Jolene.’ And I said, ‘Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.'”
The No.1 hit was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014. It was Dolly Parton’s second tune to receive the prestigious honor. The first was “I Will Always Love You” that was included in 2007.
Bluegrass singer Rhonda Vincent recorded a cover of this song that became a fan favorite and one of those fans happened to be Dolly Parton. She was so impressed with the version, that she invited the singer and her band to perform it at Dollywood. Rhonda was in for a big surprise when she took up Dolly’s offer, she said in an interview: “Now, I thought we were just going to back her up. She’s there. Isn’t she going to sing it? We got there expecting to back her up, and she goes, ‘Oh, no. I’m not going to sing it. You’re going to sing it, and I’m going to sing harmony with you.’ And all I could think of is, ‘Please don’t let me forget the words.’ Because we are nose to nose singing her song at the theater there at Dollywood to a full house. So it was a very memorable day for us. I was so glad I remembered all the words. There’s nothing like singing with Dolly.”
Dolly Parton has disclosed in several interviews that the song was also inspired by a red-headed bank clerk who flirted with her husband Carl Dean around the time they were newly married. Recalling the origins of her hit tune during her performance at Glastonbury 2014, she said:
“Now, some of you may or may not know that that song was loosely based on a little bit of truth. I wrote that years ago when my husband was spending a little more time with Jolene than I thought he should be,” Parton Said. “I put a stop to that. I got rid of that redhead woman in a hurry. I want you folks to know, though, that something good can come from anything. Had it not been for that woman I would never have written ‘Jolene’ and I wouldn’t have made all that money, so thank you, Jolene.”
Which do you like better, Dolly Parton’s version or the cover of Rhonda Vincent? Let us know in the comment section below and don’t forget to share this story to other country fans.