Few songs have retained their emotional currency from the time of their writing like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” This 1974 hit has become one of Parton’s most enduring songs. It has been covered by musical greats in a variety of styles, from Olivia Newton John’s disco version in 1976 to The White Stripes’ rough and rocking cover in 2001 to Pentatonix’s Grammy-award winning a capella version featuring Parton in 2017.
But perhaps none of these illustrious acts manage to capture the spirit of the song and the people who inspired it quite like Alexandra Kay.
50 years ago today I had the honor of joining the Grand Ole Opry family as an official member, and it's as much a dream come true today as it was back then. I can't wait to see y'all at the Opry in October!
For country singer Alexandra Kay, music is something that’s in the blood, a key part of who she is as a person. Born in Waterloo, Illinois, in 1991, not far from St. Louis, Kay has been singing since she was a teenager. While her siblings were athletically inclined and her parents wanted her to go in that direction, Kay felt more drawn to music.
As she explains on her website, “I was sort of the black sheep for a while […] I couldn’t play college softball and take the classes in performance and music I wanted at the same time.” To turn down a free education in the form of a softball scholarship was a big deal for the young woman. “It was kind of a leap of faith for me.”
Between music lessons and performing in musical theater, Kay built up her skills. Having written songs since she was a teenager, Kay eventually auditioned for American Idol in 2011, getting to third round. Since then, her work has mostly been in hip-hop and R&B.
But her passion always has been and remains country music.
تم النشر بواسطة Alexandra Kay في الأربعاء، ١٣ أبريل ٢٠١٦
When she was thinking of a country song to share with her fans and people on the internet, she couldn’t have chosen better than Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” As Kay writes on her website, “I’ve always felt that music, especially country music, has been a blessing in my life. Country music has a strong emphasis on the lyrics. That’s what people relate to, that tears your heart up, or makes it soar.”
Parton’s inspiration for the song came from two women she knew in real life. The first was a young fan who idolized her and came for an autograph after one of Parton’s live TV performances in the 1960s. As Parton told NPR: “she had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes.”
The country singer couldn’t help but be charmed by this little girl, whom she guessed was about 8 years old. “‘Well, you’re the prettiest little thing I ever saw. So what is your name?’ And she said, ‘Jolene.’ And I said, ‘Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene.’ I said, ‘That is pretty. That sounds like a song.'”
What's bigger: my banjo, my sleeves or my hair? 😉
But the “Jolene” of Parton’s song isn’t a young girl. When Parton was writing the lyrics, a woman who worked at the local bank was very flirtatious with her husband, Carl Dean. As Parton told NPR, “it was kinda like a running joke between us—when I was saying, ‘You’re spending a lot of time at the bank. I don’t believe we’ve got that kind of money.'”
What made Kay’s cover so successful was the way she captured the focus on the name “Jolene” itself, lingering on the incredible chord progression that Parton came up with. “And because it’s just the same word over and over, even a first-grader or a baby can sing, ‘Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.’ It’s like, how hard can that be?”
But what Kay does is transform this simple name into a woman’s heartfelt plea. With some simple guitar accompaniment, Kay manages to take the listener into another world with her soulful voice. And her rendition of the song definitely touched people all over the country. It has over 13 million views to date!
Yesterday we finished recording vocals and I just had to post something because I just can't contain my excitement. Ps go follow my Instagram @alexandrakaymusic #alexandrakay #debutalbum #comingsoon
These days, Kay has drawn on her immense online fan base to get a spot on Netflix’s unscripted music reality show Westside, which shows the trials and tribulations of nine musicians living in LA trying to make it in the music business. If Kay can continue to tap into the spirit of Dolly Parton the way she did for her cover of “Jolene,” there’s no doubt that she’ll make it big!