The title was inspired by an encounter with a 10-year-old fan. "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 to NPR 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.'"
This was written and recorded around the time Parton was leaving one-time singing partner and manager Porter Wagoner. The song became the first of five consecutive #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.
Some of the many artists who have covered this: The White Stripes, Reba McEntire, Olivia Newton-John and 10,000 Maniacs.
Mark - Boston, MA, for all above
The song was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014. It was Parton's second tune to receive the prestigious honor - "I Will Always Love You
" 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 our 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.
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."
The a cappella group Pentatonix released a cover of the song with Dolly Parton herself as feature artist in September 2016. When this version entered the Top 20 of the Country chart, Parton became the first artist with Top 20 hits on the tally in the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s and '10s.
The Pentatonix collaboration won the Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
When Parton was honored with MusiCares Person Of The Year award at the Grammy Awards in 2019, she performed this song with her honorary Goddaughter, Miley Cyrus.
When she got her coronavirus vaccine shot on March 2, 2021, Parton adapted "Jolene" into a pro-vaccine song, singing:
Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine
I'm begging of you please don't hesitate
Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine
'Cause once you're dead then that's a bit too late
Parton, who helped fund vaccine research with a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, posted the video on her social media channels. "I want to say to all you cowards out there, don't be such a chicken squat," she said. "Get out there and get your shot."
This inspired the first episode of the 2019 Netflix anthology series Dolly Parton's Heartstrings, a collection of stories based on Dolly's songs. In the "Jolene" installment, Emily (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) befriends aspiring country singer Jolene (Julianne Hough) at a honky-tonk bar. Trouble ensues when Emily learns a friend's husband is having an affair with the red-headed songstress and she suspects her own husband may be going down the same path.
Introducing the episode, Dolly spoke of the song's enduring influence: "The reason I think the song 'Jolene' has resonated with so many people for so long is because most of us have actually had a Jolene or a Joe in our lives at one time or another. But more importantly, we've all felt insecure about something. We've all felt like we might lose someone we love to someone else because we're not good enough, and that's what this song's really about."
This earned Dolly two consecutive nominations for Best Female Country Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards in 1975 and 1976 (first for the original release and then for a live version from In Concert). She lost to Anne Murray for Love Song and Linda Ronstadt for "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)," respectively.