Photo of Dolly Parton performing onstage
Photo of Dolly Parton (Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

Story Behind the Song: Dolly Parton Tells Childhood Truths With 'Coat of Many Colors'

Of the thousands of songs to Dolly Parton's credit, 1971's "Coat of Many Colors" best sums up her rags to riches story and the faith in God that still guides her path as a universally-loved celebrity.


Like "My Tennessee Mountain Home" and "(In the Good Old Days) When Times Were Bad," the song acknowledges Parton's rough East Tennessee upbringing. As the fourth of 12 children, she relied on the kindness of others decades before becoming a generous benefactor for future generations of needy kids.

The true tale of Parton's mother, Avie Lee Owens Parton, sewing her daughter a coat from a box of rags mirrors a Biblical story of Joseph from the book of Genesis. While Joseph's story from the Bible found him shunned by his brothers over a fancy gift from their father, Parton got mocked at school by more fortunate kids for her patchwork coat. From high-class robes to low-brow coats, there's two lessons to be learned about a parent's love and dealing with others' judgment.

The singer-songwriter wrote the song in 1969 while on a tour bus with longtime singing partner and television co-star Porter Wagoner. Because she couldn't find anything else to write on, she jotted the original lyrics down on the back of one of Wagoner's dry cleaning receipts. The framed receipt now hangs next to a replica of the original coat, also sewn by Parton's mother, in Dollywood's Chasing Rainbows museum.

Read More: The Dolly Parton Travel Guide to Tennessee: A Musical Roadtrip

For its frank honesty and universal message, the title track off Parton's Bob Ferguson-produced 1971 album became an instant country music classic. It's a fantastic opening track for deep cuts like "The Mystery of the Mystery," "A Better Place to Live," "The Way I See You" and future Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt collaboration "My Blue Tears."

A Lasting Legacy

Influential fans of the song include Canadian pop-country sensation Shania Twain. She recorded a version of the longtime personal favorite with Alison Krauss and Union Station for the 2003 covers album Just Because I'm a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton.

Nowadays, the song's title and message are as identifiable with Parton as "Jolene," "I Will Always Love You," big hair and butterflies. A 1996 children's book with illustrations by Judith Sutton introduced its title song to a new generation of fans. It since became the inspiration for two tv movies about Parton aired by NBC: 2015's Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors and 2016's Christmas of Many Colors. Both star Alyvia Alyn Lind as young Dolly and Jennifer Nettles as her mother.

This story originally ran on Aug. 27, 2018.


Editor's Note: Products featured on Wide Open Country are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.


"Coat of Many Colors" Lyrics

Back through the years
I go wonderin' once again
Back to the seasons of my youth
I recall a box of rags that someone gave us
And how my momma put the rags to use
There were rags of many colors
Every piece was small
And I didn't have a coat
And it was way down in the fall
Momma sewed the rags together
Sewin' every piece with love
She made my coat of many colors
That I was so proud of

As she sewed, she told a story
From the Bible, she had read
About a coat of many colors
Joseph wore and then she said
Perhaps this coat will bring you
Good luck and happiness
And I just couldn't wait to wear it
And momma blessed it with a kiss

My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

So with patches on my britches
And holes in both my shoes
In my coat of many colors
I hurried off to school
Just to find the others laughing
And making fun of me
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

And oh, I couldn't understand it
For I felt I was rich
And I told 'em of the love
My momma sewed in every stitch
And I told 'em all the story
Momma told me while she sewed
And how my coat of many colors
Was worth more than all their clothes

But they didn't understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me