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The Story Behind Dolly Parton’s Haunting Ballad ‘Jolene’

Song has been covered by 30 artists worldwide

Music By
Dolly Parton
(Gems/Redferns)

In a recent NPR interview, Dolly Parton talked at length about the night she met the inspiration for her famous ballad, “Jolene.” (It’s probably not what you were expecting.) Here’s what Parton had to say:

“One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl—she was probably 8 years old at the time….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.'”

The rest is history. The No. 1 country single, released in 1973, has since been covered by 30 singers worldwide. Below, listen to the original, along with four fantastic covers RealClearLife dug up for your listening pleasure.

The White Stripes – Live at the Glastonbury Festival in 2002

Norah Jones – Live at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit in 2011

Miley Cyrus – “The Backyard Sessions” in 2012

Ellie Goulding – 2009