The Untold Story Of Dolly Parton’s Coat Of Many Colors

Country music legend Dolly Parton was most recently seen getting her COVID-19 vaccine on camera as she sang “vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine” to the tune of her classic song “Jolene.” Another one of Parton’s most famous songs is “Coat of Many Colors” and it also happens to be her personal favorite due to its inspiration. 

“Coat of Many Colors” is a personal song for Parton as it’s based on an experience from her childhood. Per Songfacts, Parton grew up in poverty and was one of 12 children. Because the family didn’t have much money, Parton’s mother made her a colorful coat out of leftover material when she was a child. Although her peers made fun of her, Parton says she was always proud of the coat because it represented her mother’s love and creativity.

Parton recorded “Coat of Many Colors” in 1971 and decades later she said it remained her favorite song out of the thousands she had written and recorded. “It tells about the people I grew up with, it speaks well of my family and particularly my mother,” Parton told Mojo magazine in 2004 (via Songfacts). “My spiritual values too. I can always sing that sincerely from my heart.”

According to Country Daily, inspiration for the song struck in 1969 while Parton was on a tour bus with Porter Wagoner. She couldn’t find any paper, so she got creative and used Wagoner’s dry cleaning receipt. Upon its release in 1971, the song shot to number four on the U.S. country singles charts.

The coat and dry cleaning receipt are now in Dolly Parton's museum

The coat that inspired the song was so special to Dolly Parton that she’d kept it since childhood. It’s now in the Dollywood Museum along with the handwritten lyrics on the dry cleaning receipt, which have been framed (via Country Daily).

When “Coat of Many Colors” became a hit, Parton knew exactly how she wanted to celebrate the song’s success. “I took the money back to Mama. I said, ‘Mama, this is about that little coat you made for me, and it’s been a hit, and I’ve got royalties. I wanna take you down to Knoxville … and I wanna buy you a new mink coat,” Parton told The Boot in 2019. “She said, ‘A mink coat?! Where am I gonna wear a mink coat around here? And besides, I don’t want something that’s already been worn.’ She said, ‘Just give me the money.’ Because she still had a house full of kids back home at that time. So I gave her the money.”

Parton also shared that, after her mother’s death, it was incredibly hard for her to perform the song for a period of time. But, with time, it’s become joyful once again because it reminds her of her mom’s spirit.

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