Song by Song

S2 E1 Dolly Parton: Coat of Many Colors

“Coat of Many Colors” is an autobiographical song by Dolly Parton, which she has described on numerous occasions as her favorite of the songs she has written. She composed the song in 1969, while traveling with Porter Wagoner on a tour bus. (She explained in her 1994 memoires, “My Life and Other Unfinished Business”, because she could find no paper, as the song came to her, she wrote it on the back of a dry cleaning receipt from one of Wagoner’s suits; when the song became a hit, Wagoner had the receipt framed.) She recorded the song in April 1971, making it the title song for her Coat of Many Colors album. Released as a single in August 1971, the song reached #4 on the U.S. country singles charts. As one of 12 children born to a sharecropper in Smokey Mountain region of East Tennessee in a tiny home with no running water or electricity, this episode will explore her impoverished childhood and how it became a breeding ground for her drive and independence. Ms. Parton kept the original coat, now on display in her Chasing Rainbows Museum at Dollywood. (Mr. Wagoner also donated the framed dry cleaning receipt on which Parton composed the song to the museum, where it now hangs.) Shania Twain recorded a cover version of the song on the 2003 Dolly Parton tribute album Just Because I’m a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton, with accompaniment by Alison Krauss and Union Station. A 1996 children’s picture book of the song, with illustrations by Judith Sutton, was published by Harpercollins Children’s Books. In 2005, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ranked Coat of Many Colors number 10 on its list of 100 Songs of the South. In 2012 Dolly Parton’s recording was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”