“I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb… and I also know that I’m not blonde.” — Dolly Parton

An American original. Born on this day. A living legend. A national treasure. I have too many favorite Dolly Parton songs to list, and I love her stuff with Porter Wagoner. Speaking of which, have you seen the episode of Drunk History where an adorable wasted man describes Dolly’s break with Porter Wagoner? If you haven’t …

He loves her so much! The slam on the table at the end.

More after the jump.


I love this compilation clip of different performances of “The Seeker.”

In the clip she shows the transcendent primal affinity she has with her audience, which has lasted 5 decades now. In that clip, you can see her honesty about where she’s coming from, and her joy in doing what she is doing.

One small note on the clip above: what she does in between the :49 second mark and 1:04 is an example of why I love her so much. She playfully slaps her own cheek, throwing a grin at her guitarist, reveling in who she is with up there, what they are creating. She loves her band, she loves her backup singers, she loves the audience. This is a woman who couldn’t, literally couldn’t, be anything other than what she is. Boobs and wigs and plastic surgery and all. She is always herself. The surface does not hide the self. The surface IS the self, something some people really have a hard time grasping.

Her cover of “Both Sides Now” re-invents it as a bluegrass tune, complete with banjo, making the well-known melody MOVE in a new and fresh way.

Dolly Parton has never stopped developing herself as an artist. She has also never forgotten what made her fans value her in the first place.

Why on earth would you look at a fabulous creature like Dolly Parton and decide that concern-trolling her appearance is your best first response? Besides, she’s beat you to the bunch. Her first single, a song she didn’t write (which was rare) was “Dumb Blonde.” She sees you, she sees your judgment, she calls you out, and she is not ashamed.

But this has always been the case with Dolly. People view the boobs, the wigs, the nails as phony. Or trashy. No no no no. She thinks she looks beautiful. She is beautiful. And from the beginning she allows us to see her heart, allowed us to see where she came from. She’s the real deal. “Coat of Many Colors” is no joke. She forces us to look past whatever “persona” someone may have, she forces us to see “both sides”, she forces you to NOT judge a person on their surface.

To quote Oscar Wilde:

It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

Here is Dolly and Porter performing “If Teardrops Were Pennies.”

Porter had invited her to join his show, and although she had always envisioned a solo career for herself, she said Yes. It was a very successful partnership, and when she finally decided to strike out on her own, “I Will Always Love You” is the song she wrote about that experience.

The following anecdote is well-known to Elvis and Dolly fans, but others might not be aware: Elvis wanted to record “I Will Always Love You” and reached out to Dolly. The way it worked, though, in Elvis-Land: you had to give up your publishing rights to the song if Elvis sang it. In the 60s/70s, this arrangement ended up fucking him up big-time, with the rise of the singer-songwriter. Suddenly, people were like, “I SO would love Elvis to cover my song, but I need to retain the rights” and withholding good material from him. Which is what happened with Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You.” She had the strength to resist that offer, having no idea that literally 20 years later, a young singer named Whitney Houston would make it into one of the most famous songs around the WORLD. Dolly was right to withstand that offer, but still … I would have loved to hear Elvis’ version and I know Dolly would have too. She tells the story to Dan Rather:

You have to go back in time to realize how daring some of Dolly’s earlier material was (and still is). She took on sexism, the double standard, having a kid out of wedlock, being a woman “of experience,” and many of these songs got her into hot water. Like “Down From Dover,” where she’s a woman waiting for the father of her unborn child to return.

One of my favorites of hers is “My Tennessee Mountain Home.”

The YouTube reactor community has discovered Dolly Parton. They are blown away and it is very moving. Here is my favorite. I love these twin brothers. They are so OPEN.

And this? This is overwhelming. Dolly was in Ireland, and she showed up at Paídi Ó Sé’s Pub unannounced. And sang “Coat of Many Colors.” It’s TOO. MUCH.

Here’s a clip that is so much fun. It disappears from Youtube periodically. It’s on there now. So take your chance while you can get it. Dolly Parton and Jerry Reed together?? He’s got this hilarious song “She Got the Goldmine, I Got the Shaft.” (Which … is hilarious.) Dolly joins him onstage to tell the woman’s side of the story. I ship these two.

Integrity. Guts. Smarts. Sweetness. A thick skin. A gift for writing unforgettable songs and melodies that stay with us forever. A performing style that is transparent, joyous, inclusive. A connection to her roots – ALWAYS.

And she’s a hell of an actress, too.

We’re so lucky.


“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” — Dolly Parton

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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29 Responses to “I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb… and I also know that I’m not blonde.” — Dolly Parton

  1. Maureen says:

    Happy belated birthday, Dolly!!

    I absolutely love her, and she is a treasure. I have never heard her cover of Both Sides Now, and it is wonderful! Thank you for this post, Sheila!

    • sheila says:

      Oh I’m so glad to have shared the Both Sides Now clip then! That whole album of covers is amazing – I highly recommend it! And sometimes she has the original singer singing backup for her – including them in her “spin” on the song that made them famous. It’s great!

      She’s the best. So glad she is still out there among us, doing her thing.

      • Mike T. says:

        Yes indeed, many thanks for sharing something that I, too, had never heard before (but will be hearing many, many times in the future). Who but Dolly Parton would think of such an upbeat version of a wonderful song (by another transcendent woman) that is so often performed in a doleful fashion? That seems to be what she and her work are really all about; the will to live joyfully and courageously in the midst of all the pain, confusion, and sorrow life sometimes offers.

        I’m tempted to describe her as a “force of nature”, but I honestly think she is a force of God. A lot of people seem to love her; I think what I am really is in awe of her.

        • sheila says:

          Mike –

          // Who but Dolly Parton would think of such an upbeat version of a wonderful song (by another transcendent woman) that is so often performed in a doleful fashion? //

          I know!! I so agree!

          There are some people who seem to have a divine gift, or sense of purpose, or ability to connect – not everybody has it. She always has.

        • sheila says:

          “I know I’m not dumb. And I also know I’m not blonde.”

          There could not be a more perfect or Dolly-ish response to such a dumb comment!!

  2. Debra T. says:

    I always look for the Dolly song on your playlist posts.
    I have a big Dolly love. She is my Elvis.

    • sheila says:

      She is just the best. As with Elvis, she encompasses so much of our culture – expresses so many different aspects of it – with an authenticity that is transparent. She has never been anything other than what she is. Very few human beings ever manage that, or are able to sustain it.

      Love her.

  3. Maureen says:

    I know this is way after the fact, but I bought this CD-couldn’t find it on ITunes. I listen to it on the way to work, and it is absolutely delightful. Her voice fills me with joy, and thank you so much for sharing the Both Sides Now clip-I hadn’t heard about this album!

    • sheila says:

      Isn’t it wonderful? One of my favorite recent albums, in general. Great stuff!! Glad you discovered it!

      • sheila says:

        I also love how she has the original singers come and sing with her – Cat Stevens and Judy Collins and all the rest – It’s such a DOLLY album, but it’s also one big act of tribute.

        It’s wonderful!

  4. Dolly is one of the people I try to think about when it seems like America has finally sunk to the low point that has always been its dark potential. She is a joyful presence, and an example of how our culture is capable of generosity and warmth. She is sincere and utterly open, which are American qualities that sometimes seem overlooked. She is also, by the way, an expressive and creative artist who is capable of bringing some light into the dark just by her existence.

  5. Maureen says:

    It’s been 3 years since my last comment on this post-but of course I have more thoughts :)

    What I love about Dolly is that she is so very much herself. She doesn’t apologize, she doesn’t explain-she is there with all her wit, beauty and talent. People talk about the American Dream, and it feels like so far beyond we can feel today. Yet she embodies that, from a poor background-she becomes a superstar. A loving background though, I always feel like sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle-growing up feeling loved means everything, no matter what your material circumstances are.

    Dolly is one of a kind, I guess the only thing I say is that I love her. For her music, her kindness, her commitment to literacy-she is the best!

    • sheila says:

      // I always feel like sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle-growing up feeling loved means everything, no matter what your material circumstances are. //

      That’s such an important point. You can feel it in “Coat of Many Colors” so much.

      I just saw a Tweet from her that the Grammy Museum is going to have a special exhibition of some of her more outrageous bling-y rhinestone-y outfits!!

  6. Dusa Heller says:

    The way people talk about Dolly reminds me of the way Kesha is often dismissed by people as trashy etc. Makes me all the happier that they collaborated on her last album!

  7. Donna Thomas says:

    I am a huge Dolly fan and have been lucky to see her live once but I had never heard “Down in Dover”. A heartbreaking song. Happy birthday Diva Dolly!

  8. Heather says:

    Shelia, Thank You for sharing all this Dolly love. You made my day. I think you might be my sister from another mister because I love Cary Grant, Elvis, Dolly and Jensen Ackles’ portrayal of Dean Winchester. I’m so glad my adoration of Ms. Parton brought me to your site. I’ve been reading here for over an hour because I was just in awe of how much we love the same artists. Thank you for sharing all these gems. You new fan aka sister from another mister

  9. Bill Wolfe says:

    That version of “Both Sides Now” makes it a completely different song – it really swings. Although I’ll always associate this song with Sharon Tate’s drive down Wilshire Boulevard into Westwood in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Dolly’s version deserves to be better known.

    And that “argument” on “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)” is fantastic!

    • sheila says:

      // Sharon Tate’s drive down Wilshire Boulevard into Westwood in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood //

      Such a wonderful scene and such a perfect song – in that context, it’s suffused with this ache of bittersweetness – Sharon seems so happy and content.

  10. Cassandra says:

    I used to highlight my hair to almost full platinum, and I quoted the title quote ALL. THE. TIME.

    I don’t even like country music but I adore Dolly.

  11. Kristen says:

    Thank you for this deep and delightful post. Heartened by your certainty that Dolly is always herself. (When I love an artist’s persona, I wonder if they’re too good to be true…) Had a soft spot for Dolly since childhood, but she felt like a true godsend during covid isolation. Spent hours listening ( and relistening) to Jad Abumrad’s podcast- “Dolly Parton’s America.” Fascinating and inspiring, just like her music. The Trio stuff with Emmylou and Linda is just Chills! Thank you for all the clips. Can’t wait to check out all of them!

    • sheila says:

      // Spent hours listening ( and relistening) to Jad Abumrad’s podcast- “Dolly Parton’s America.” //

      wow – I haven’t listened. That sounds amazing!!

      To me, Dolly is like Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard … their music is always nearby. I never go through “phases” with them – like I do with other artists, where I’ll listen intensely and constnatly and then stop for a while. No – their music is always around, always nearby – I probably listen to at least one song by those four artists once a day, at the very LEAST.

      Her message of support for Priscilla Presley following Lisa Marie’s death was so touching. Dolly always does and says the right thing.

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