Dolly Parton Reveals True Story Behind ‘Coat of Many Colors’: ‘I Didn’t Even Know I’d Been Hurt That Bad’

by Atlanta Northcutt
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Dolly Parton couldn’t imagine how much of an impact her song “Coat of Many Colors” would have on so many people when she recorded it in 1971. However, thanks to her fearless storytelling (and her mama), fans find healing from the pains of being different.

Parton describes the song in three words: Personal, loving, and caring.

Before she grew up to become the legendary Dolly Parton, she was one of 12 children living in Sevierville, Tennessee. Although her family was very poor, they were rich in love.

The Meaning Behind “Coat of Many Colors”

In the song she explains the bullying she faces upon returning to school in her coat:

“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”

– “Coat of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton

“‘Coat of Many Colors’ is a song which is dear to me,” says Dolly. “And of course, the little coat of many colors is a true story from my childhood.”

Dolly Parton on Being Bullied

“I didn’t even know I had been hurt that bad by the whole experience of the kids laughing at me and all, but it just started coming out one day,” says Parton. “It just turned into a song that was meant to be because it has touched the lives of so many people.”

She explains the song means so much to her personally because it’s a true story from her childhood, about a little ragged coat her mama makes for her, sewing rags and scraps of cloth together to make the coat of many colors.”

“Mama tried to make me feel proud of it by telling (me) the story of Joseph from the Bible,” says Dolly. “The song is really, really special, and we’ve made it into a movie now. Hopefully through the years, people will be able to see that and connect with family. It kind of takes me back in time. That song will always be very special to me.”

Dolly’s Proudest Accomplishment

Parton says one of the things she is most proud of is the production of a little book illustrating and telling the story of Dolly’s “Coat of Many Colors.”

“As a matter of fact, one of the things I’m proudest of is the little book that we had out. They illustrated it and told the story,” she says. “They use that, actually, in schools now as an anti-bullying song. It lets people know that we’re supposed to love one another for who and what we are, and to celebrate our differences because we shouldn’t all be the same.”

Although the coat is now long gone, the photo on the front of the “Coat of Many Colors” album still has the picture of a young Dolly wearing the coat her Mama made for her.

“People often ask me, of all of the thousands of songs I’ve written in my lifetime if I have a favorite. I do have a personal favorite, and it is “‘Coat of Many Colors’,” says Parton. “To me, it’s more than a song. It’s an attitude. It’s a philosophy. It speaks about family. It’s anti-bullying. It just covers so many things.”

“Mama knew what she was doing,” adds Dolly.

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