I know her hits, of course. But my first introduction to Jolene was from an artist named Mindy Smith who did a beautiful cover back in 2004.
And I’m sad to report that I grew up thinking that I will Always Love You was a Whitney Houston song. Hers is the version I’m most familiar with (other than my own Karaoke version).
But did you know that Dolly Parton wrote both of those songs on the same day? And that Whitney’s cover holds the record for being the best-selling single by a woman in music history?
I didn’t either. But I know that know, plus a whole lot more, because I’m obsessed with the podcast “Dolly Parton’s America.
In this intensely divided moment, one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America’s great icons. Join us for a 9-episode journey into the Dollyverse. Hosted by Jad Abumrad, creator of Radiolab and More Perfect.
Dolly Parton’s America is co-produced by OSM Audio and WNYC Studios.
Listen to the trailer, and see if you think you’ll be able to stay away long:
As of publication, there have been 2 episodes and I’ve burst into tears approximately 6 times.
As someone who didn’t grow up with Dolly Parton, this podcast is making me wish I had. So if you’re someone who did grow up with Dolly, I can’t imagine how you’re going to take it. It’s beautiful, it’s heart-breaking, it’s inspiring, and that’s all in just two episodes.
Let me tell you my favorite story thus far, and this is probably old news to those of you who have an annual pass to Dollywood, but it’s about her relationship with Porter Wagoner.
Wagoner was country royalty. He had the biggest syndicated show on TV at the time, and in 1967 he brought on Dolly as the pretty little lady on his show to entertain the crowd. And that’s what Dolly did and who she was. She was the eye candy for the audience. Wagoner called the shots and together they had a successful duet career. But as Dolly started gaining her own solo success, she started standing up to Wagoner and their relationship started to dissolve. The power dynamics started to shift as Dolly became successful without Wagoner and eventually the tension was too much to continue working together. Rumors have circulated for years that the two had an affair, but it has never been confirmed.
So one fateful day, Dolly decided she was leaving her professional relationship with Porter Wagoner and she penned Jolene and I will Always Love You. The latter she performed for Wagoner as her pronouncement that what they had was over. Just read this:
If I should stay, I would only be in your way
So I’ll go, but I know
I’ll think of you every step of the way
And I will always love you
I will always love you
You, my darling you, hm
That is all I’m taking with me
Please, don’t cry
We both know I’m not what you, you need
And I will always love you
I will always love you, you
Ugh- it’s perfect. (And..I mean…. it really sounds like they had an affair…)
Dolly Parton’s America is the story of an incredibly complex woman, one who has been ridiculed as a ‘dumb blond with big boobs’ her entire life. But Dolly Parton is a true feminist- one who lives it (and actually hates the term) and tells the stories of women who have been silenced. Dolly is loved by people who would never love each other. Dolly Parton is someone I want to get to know a whole lot more of, and you should too!