Dolly Parton Tales

Dolly Parton posing with guitar and butterflies

Stories don’t mean anything when you’ve got no one to tell them to

We all know a thing or two about Dolly. Whether that be her most famous songs, that she loves butterflies, or that she makes a mean banana pudding. But there are a few stories with some characters you may recognize that you might not already know about the Smoky Mountain Songbird. And they are quite comical.

These big lumps came up and they never did go down… Got ya!

Dolly Parton and drag queen posing together.

Dolly in Drag

The comical Queen of Country loves a good prank. So she figured, why not enter a drag contest based on celebrity impersonation? Most came dressed as Cher or Dolly, so naturally, Dolly said why not. What was she gonna do, lose? Turns out that’s exactly what happened. She did herself up more exaggeratedly than usual and when she walked across the stage, the audience’s applause was less enthusiastic for her compared to the queens who spent months preparing their outfits and wigs. Dolly lost, and never revealed her true identity. Those costumes must have been pretty damn spot on.

The Voice v. The King

News to some: Dolly Parton is the writer of one of the songs Whitney Houston is most famous for—the song not ideal for karaoke no matter how good a singer your mom insists you are—“I Will Always Love You.” Dolly wrote this song for Porter Wagoner, her longtime friend and duet partner, as a farewell, and more than one artist was eager to record it. One of those was none other than the King of Rock and Roll himself, Mr. Elvis Presley. But show biz is show biz, and the King’s producers wanted half the publishing rights, so Dolly put her boot down and had to decline even though she really did want Elvis to sing it. Flash forward a couple years, and Whitney Houston covered the song for the film The Bodyguard, and the rest is history. Dolly even said she almost crashed her car when she heard Whitney’s version on the radio for the first time because it was just that good.

White Lightning moonshine jug

Dolly, Jane & White Lightning

After becoming friends on the set of 9 to 5, Dolly had Jane Fonda come out to Nashville, and not just for any visit, but to be a background singer for a performance at the Grand Ole Opry. After that, Dolly had Jane come on tour with her, and the first stop was to give Jane a true taste of the country by taking her to the Ozarks for some of Dolly’s cousin’s homemade moonshine, also known as white lightning. She even taught the mother of exercise tapes the proper way to hoist up the jug with your thumb in it. Little did Jane know she’d be drunk for the next ten days. We’d have loved to be on that tour bus.

“Jolene” in prison

The man who preached for peace during apartheid in South Africa was one of Dolly’s biggest fans. After being sentenced to life in prison on a false accusation of high treason in 1964, he spent 27 years behind bars before being released (and then was elected president just four years later, but that’s another story). During Nelson Mandela’s time at Robben Island, the guards allowed him to play music. And not just in his cell, but for the entire prison to hear over the loudspeakers. One of those songs—“Jolene.” This wasn’t just any song to those in the prison, but one that symbolized their freedom being taken away, and spoke to their hope and heartbreak through Dolly’s heartfelt voice and emotion about losing what she loves most.

Man with cane leaping in the air

The Tonight Show

On Jimmy Fallon’s show, our favorite prankster was reminiscing about how it felt to be a local celebrity back in Tennessee before she became the star she is now. Dolly said she would take her sisters to Gatlinburg to treat them to pancakes, and one day a customer left his bill for her to pay, telling the waitress he was Dolly’s grandfather. When Dolly went to settle up, she did in fact pay for the dine-and-dasher even though they were very much not related. She saw him in the parking lot, and she told him she would’ve paid for his meal regardless of whether he was her grandfather or not. What came next shocked Jimmy in more ways than one. Dolly said the man started to beat her across the chest with his walking stick. When Jimmy asked what happened next, Dolly replied, “These big lumps came up and they never did go down … Got ya!”