Dolly Parton And Her Vaccine: Showing Us Once Again She 'Ain't Nobody's Fool'

Mar 12, 2021

You might have seen the video of Dolly Parton receiving a COVID vaccine, developed with the help of her $1 million donation to research.

Before getting the shot, she sang new lyrics to her country hit "Jolene."

Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine
I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate.
Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine
'Cause once you're dead, well – then that's a bit too late.

It was a funny bit and Dolly knew it, but then she added: “I’m trying to be funny now, but I’m dead serious.”

Nobody knows better than Parton herself that her cartoon image is the one most people remember. She based her look on the town tramp, she said, and then amped it up. But Parton also has a thoughtful and activist side.

Consider these achievements: Dolly Parton has funded health care projects all across Tennessee for seniors, women and children. When she learned that one in three students drop out of high school in the area where she grew up, Parton created a foundation to encourage educational success. The dropout rate plummeted to 6%. And as the daughter of a father who could not read or write, Parton developed the Imagination Library that has supplied over 155 million free books to children around the world.

She’s come a long way from hardscrabble beginnings in east Tennessee. Her parents were so poor, she said, that — when she was born – her father paid the doctor with a sack of cornmeal. Early on, Parton displayed an uncanny ability to rhyme, and her mother wrote down songs her daughter made up – songs about corn dolls, doing without, and that coat of many colors.

“The worst thing about poverty is not the actual living of it,” Parton once said, “but the shame of it.”

It’s fitting that Parton’s first hit was about those two sides to her personality: the big-haired cartoon and the serious woman. In 1967, “Dumb Blonde” hit No. 24 on the charts.

And those opening lyrics that introduced Dolly to the world? 

Just because I’m blonde, don’t think I’m dumb.
‘Cause this dumb blonde ain’t nobody’s fool.

Sounds like she always knew who she was.

Martha Ackmann, an author and journalist who lives in Leverett, Massachusetts, is at work on a new book about Dolly Parton.