Dolly Parton’s famous song “Jolene” continues to be one of her most recognizable hit singles. Decades after its release, the legendary tune still captivates its listeners. One thing that often sticks out to fans is the name “Jolene” itself. After all, you certainly don’t hear a name like that every day, despite how gorgeous it is. As it turns out, Dolly Parton herself was equally struck when she heard the name back in the late 1960s. But instead of belonging to a woman who might steal Dolly’s man, the name actually belonged to an eight-year-old girl.
In a resurfaced 2008 interview with NPR, Parton described what her career was like in the late 1960s before “Jolene” came out. She had just launched her career on a country music TV show, and she used to sign autographs every night after the broadcast (how thoughtful!). Little did she know that her meeting with one young fan was about to change the course of her music career — and her life — forever.
“One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably eight years old at the time,” Parton explained to NPR. “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.'”
Pretty jaw-dropping, right? Of course, as many fans know, the song’s actual lyrics were inspired by another woman entirely: a bank teller who took a liking to Dolly Parton’s husband, Carl Dean.
“She got this terrible crush on my husband,” Parton said in the same NPR interview. “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.”
Considering that Dolly Parton has been married to Carl Dean for more than 50 years, we think it’s safe to say that their bond is just as strong as it’s ever been. But we do have to add that we’re curious about where that little redheaded girl is today — and whether she knows she inspired one of the greatest hits of all time.
We hope she and Dolly meet again someday!