The Legacy of “Jolene”: Dolly Parton’s Iconic Song Inspires Generations, Including Beyoncé

Here’s the history of the song.

By

Lauren Jo Black

| Posted on

March 27, 2024

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Dolly Parton; Photo by Andrew Wendowski, Beyonce; Photo Courtesy Instagram

Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” became the talk of the internet on Wednesday when Beyoncé seemingly unveiled the track list for her new album, Act 2: Cowboy Carter, on social media. The tracks were revealed in a graphic that resembles a rodeo poster and among them is “Jolene,” one of Parton’s most recognizable songs. “Dolly P” also appeared on the poster, signaling that this may be a collaboration with the country music icon. 

As fans eagerly await the release of Cowboy Carter, which drops this Friday, March 29, here’s a look back on the history of “Jolene.”

What’s The Story Behind Dolly Parton’s “Jolene?”

Dolly Parton is the sole songwriter of “Jolene” and was inspired to write the song after her beloved husband, Carl Dean, visited a bank near their home. There was a teller at the bank who took a liking to Carl Dean and Parton caught wind of it.  

“She got this terrible crush on my husband,” Parton previously told NPR. “And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. It was kinda like a running joke between us — when I was saying, ‘Hell, you’re spending a lot of time at the bank. I don’t believe we’ve got that kind of money.’ So it’s really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one.”

Dolly Parton - Jolene Cover Art
Dolly Parton – Jolene Cover Art

The title of the song and inspiration for the character of “Jolene” originated from a youthful admirer who sought Dolly Parton’s autograph at one of her live performances.

“One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably 8 years old at the time,” Parton explained. “And she had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes, and she was looking up at me, holding, you know, for an autograph. 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.’ I said, ‘That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.’”

When Was “Jolene” Released?

Bob Ferguson produced the song at RCA Studio B and it ultimately became the first single and title track of her 1974 album. The song was officially released on October 15, 1973 and quickly climbed the charts, marking Dolly Parton’s second solo No.1 hit. “Jolene” also achieved success in the UK, reaching No.7 on the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart upon its release as a single.

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“Jolene” has garnered numerous accolades, such as its inclusion as No. 217 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list in 2004. Additionally, it received Grammy nominations for Best Female Country Vocal Performance at the 17th and 18th Grammy Awards and won Best Country Duo/Group Performance at the 59th Grammy Awards for Pentatonix’s cover. The song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014.

Which Artists Have Covered “Jolene?”

To this day, “Jolene” marks Parton’s most-covered song, according to the Country Music Hall of Famer herself. It has been performed by the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus, Gabby Barrett, and now, Beyoncé. 

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Lauren Jo Black

Written by

Lauren Jo Black

Lauren Jo Black, a University of Central Florida graduate, has immersed herself in the world of country music for over 15 years. In 2008, she co-founded CountryMusicIsLove, eventually selling it to a major record label in 2015. Following the rebranding of the website to Sounds Like Nashville, Black served as Editor-in-Chief for two and a half years. Currently, she assumes the role of Editor-in-Chief at Country Now and oversees Country Now’s content and digital footprint. Her extensive experience also encompasses her previous role as a Country Music Expert Writer for Answers.com and her work being featured on Forbes.com. She’s been spotlighted among Country Aircheck’s Women of Influence and received the 2012 Rising Star Award from the University of Central Florida. Black also spent time in front of the camera as host of Country Now Live, which brought live music directly to fans in 2021 when the majority of concerts were halted due to the pandemic. During this time, she hosted 24 weeks of live concerts via Country Now Live on Twitch with special guests such as Lady A, Dierks Bentley, Jordan Davis, Brett Young, and Jon Pardi. Over the course of her career, she has had the privilege of conducting interviews with some of the industry’s most prominent stars, including Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Lainey Wilson, and many others. Lauren Jo Black is a longtime member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.