Recorded in April 1971 and running to three minutes four seconds, this is another of Parton's hit songs, and the personal favorite of her own compositions. From the title one would be inclined to think it had a Biblical or religious connection; although it does, it is actually autobiographical.
Parton was born in Locust Ridge, Tennessee and grew up in poverty, the fourth of 12 children, and her mother really did make her such a coat. Her classmates teased her, but Parton was proud of the coat and tried to make them understand that even though her family didn't have much money, they were rich in other, more important ways.
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.
Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2
Even after Parton became a huge star, this song remained her favorite out of the 3000+ songs she had written. "It tells about the people I grew up with, it speaks well of my family and particularly my mother," she told Mojo in 2004. "My spiritual values too. I can always sing that sincerely from my heart."
Dolly Parton would introduce this song in concert as "a true story about a little patchwork coat my Momma made me from a box of rags."
The biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors is found in Genesis 37. While Dolly Parton's patchwork coat inspired ridicule, Joseph's inspired envy. Joseph's father, Jacob (or Israel), was particularly proud of him because he was born when Jacob was an old man. Jacob showed his favoritism when he tasked Joseph to keep tabs on his other sons, born to different wives, and made him an elaborate coat of many colors to signify his important standing in the family. When Joseph began having dreams that he would become a powerful leader, his jealous brothers sold him into slavery. They tore the ornate coat and dipped it in blood to fool their father into thinking Joseph had been killed by an animal. It worked, but Joseph's prophetic dreams would come true as he became a powerful official in Egypt and would eventually confront his brothers and be reunited with his father.
After Parton's mother Avie died in 2003, it became very difficult for Dolly to perform this song. She says it was months before she could sing it without crying.
A TV movie based on the song premiered on NBC on December 10, 2015. "It really kind of evolves and details a lot of my whole life in bits and pieces. And it really shows family," Parton explained to reporters. "I don't know if people, besides me, miss having shows like Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons, but it's kind of like that. It just shows the simple life of back then, back when."
"[It's] a show about people who made me who and what I am," she continued. "It shows that I love music, and I love my folks … It's really got a lot of great elements."
13 million viewers tuned in to the TV movie's premiere. It was the most-watched movie on American TV since May of 2012 and also earned NBC its best total-viewer results since 2009's ER series finale (not including sports and live musicals).
Shania Twain and Alison Krauss sang this on the 2003 tribute album Just Because I'm A Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton.
Dolly was on tour with Porter Wagoner when she got the idea for the song. She wrote the original lyrics on Wagoner's dry-cleaning receipt, which she found on the tour bus.
Even though she learned to take pride in the patchwork coat, Dolly never got used to the bullying from her peers. Writing the song was a cathartic experience. She recalled in her 2020 book, Songteller: "At the time, I thought, 'Why is this happening?' Now I know it was so I could write that song. It really is true that 'God works in strange and mysterious ways His wonders to perform.' You never know when you're going through things what is actually going to turn out to be a blessing. So it's worth the suffering."