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The Real Inspiration Behind Dolly Parton's Jolene

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Whether you prefer one of its many covers or the timeless original, Dolly Parton's melancholy man-stealer hit "Jolene" is a part of our cultural memory. But who is this "Jolene" gal, really? As it turns out, Parton took inspiration from a flirty redhead — as evident in the song's lyrics — and someone much less obvious.

"Jolene" was partly inspired by the early days of Parton's marriage to Carl Dean. Whenever Dean went to the bank, a certain red-headed teller was particularly attentive, as Dolly told NPR: "She got this terrible crush on my husband. And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention."

Despite the desperation in "Jolene's" lyrics, Parton has claimed she wasn't threatened by the girl at the bank, and the whole kerfuffle became a "running joke" in her marriage to Dean. The song's title, meanwhile, came from an 8-year-old fan who approached Parton for an autograph early in the singer's career.

Parton recalled to NPR that she asked for the young girl's name, "And she said, 'Jolene.' And I said, 'Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene.' [...] That sounds like a song.'" Parton has also revealed that she's more than comfortable with all sorts of different covers and interpretations of her song, especially from the LGBTQ+ community.