International Women’s Day Part Two: Dolly Parton Songteller, My Life in Lyrics

As I said, in part one of celebrating International Women’s Day, I spend the weekend reading books written by, and about, strong women. Part One was I am Malala and Part Two, here, is none other than Dolly Rebecca Parton. Her latest book, Dolly Parton Songteller, My Life in Lyrics is an eyeopening look at the life and music of Dolly Parton.


Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics is a landmark celebration of the remarkable life and career of a country music and pop culture legend.

As told by Dolly Parton in her own inimitable words, explore the songs that have defined her journey. Illustrated throughout with previously unpublished images from Dolly Parton’s personal and business archives.

Mining over 60 years of songwriting, Dolly Parton highlights 175 of her songs and brings readers behind the lyrics.

• Packed with never-before-seen photographs and classic memorabilia
• Explores personal stories, candid insights, and myriad memories behind the songs

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics reveals the stories and memories that have made Dolly a beloved icon across generations, genders, and social and international boundaries.

Containing rare photos and memorabilia from Parton’s archives, this book is a show-stopping must-have for every Dolly Parton fan. from Goodreads.

A light blue cover features a black and white photo of Dolly Parton with the title “Dolly Parton Songteller, My Life in Lyrics”


I became a fan of Dolly Parton completely backwards. First, I loved her as an actress from the moment I saw her in 9 to 5. Then, I loved her for not taking any flack about her appearance. Her quick and witty responses have always impressed me as did her desire to look however she wanted with no need for anyone else’s approval. I learned about her music and her literacy program nearly in tandem and, that was it. Dolly Parton is absolutely a living legend in my book.

When I asked for this book for my birthday I didn’t realize it was such a tome. Dolly has written over 3000 songs and 450 of them have been recorded either by her or another artist. This book contains 175 of her songs. With minimal background provided by Robert K. Oermann, the lyrics and Dolly’s thoughts on each song are the highlight of the book. I sat down with the book Saturday morning and finished it Sunday night. If I came across a song I didn’t know, I played it. Spending time working through each song with Dolly was such a joyful experience and, if you have the chance, I highly recommend it. And, if you grow tired of reading and listening to music, the photographs of her through the years, her costumes, and memorabilia, are so gorgeous.

Just like Malala, Dolly’s life was shaped by her family and where she grew up. At this point, I think everyone knows so much about Dolly’s Smoky Mountain childhood that it doesn’t seem relevant except, growing up without running water, electricity, and being raised by a parent who was illiterate are all things Dolly and Malala have in common. Both women also have Fathers they love dearly and who have supported and inspired them in their endeavors.

And, while Dolly may not have been shot by the Taliban, she has quietly been building her Imagination Library until she has delivered more than 130 million books to children’s homes. Both women are on the front line of getting books and education into the hands of whoever wants them. If you want to learn more about Dolly’s work or donate to her library, you can easily do so here!

This book highlighted how long Dolly has been standing up for her own place in the music business away from the bright light of men who wanted to control her, like Porter Wagoner, and singing themes that are near and dear to the hearts of women (and men!). While she doesn’t consider herself a “feminist,” she certainly is one in my book. Her song “Your Ole Handy Man” is one of Dolly’s earliest songs with an assertive woman and I just love these lyrics from 1967.

I do everything for you. You never help yourself.

And I think I’d die from shock if you raised your hand to help.

Well, I’m not gonna keep it up, if that’s what you got planned.

Your woman’s gettin’ tired of being your ole handy man.”

Your Ole Handy Man by Dolly Parton

And in 1968 Dolly’s son “Just Because I’m a Woman” addressed the issue of holding a woman to different standards than a man when it came to being with someone intimately before marriage. The one that shocked me the most was the 1970 song, “Daddy Come and Get Me.” This song was inspired by Dolly’s real life experience of knowing a woman who was driven crazy and then put into a mental institute by her husband with no recourse but to hope her Father would come and set her free. Even though this was a situation no one knew how to handle, Dolly knew it needed to be discussed.

In 2018, Dolly was approached to write a song about an album that was being made about the constitutional amendments. She wrote her own tongue in cheek song about the woman’s right to vote which is clever but makes the point that women have been fighting for their rights since the beginning of time.

First they said we couldn’t dance

They said we couldn’t drink

And unless some man allowed it

They said we couldn’t think.

A Woman’s Right by Dolly Parton

That’s what Dolly Parton does so beautifully doesn’t she? She shines a light on all the emotions of the human experience. Her music so clearly lets us know that we are far from alone – those feelings, worries, and fears are felt by everyone. I’ve never been a big fan of country music but Dolly Parton was always my exception. Until I read this book I wasn’t sure precisely why. Now I understand. Dolly is singing her truth and whether she is yodeling with a banjo behind her, backed by a full gospel choir, or singing acapella, Dolly is singing the truth of living and I just can’t get enough of it.

Tell me, please! What’s your favorite Dolly Parton song or quote?


11 thoughts on “International Women’s Day Part Two: Dolly Parton Songteller, My Life in Lyrics

Add yours

  1. I like Dolly Parton, but I’m a very basic fan since my favorite song is “Jolene.” I didn’t realize she had written SO MANY songs, however! This is such a great review; I love how you incorporated the song lyrics and were so detailed, yet managed to give away very little. I am *definitely* intrigued and will be adding this to my TBR for when I’m in the mood for a biography. Thanks for taking the time to write this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I consider myself such a basic fan too but you are far from alone with Jolene! She says that over 400 people have covered that song. Isn’t that nuts?? Thanks for the kind words and I hope you get to spend time with Dolly soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dolly Parton is someone that I admire. She is talented both in singing and acting, but she is also an amazing humanitarian. Her work with illiteracy is inspiring. This is a book that I definitely want to read. Thanks for this great review.

    Liked by 1 person

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