Dolly Parton Declares Her First Days with Porter Wagoner Felt ‘Like Murder’

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Dolly Parton possesses a charm in being both deft and direct to the millions of questions the country music marvel fields on every aspect of her life and career.  Whether she’s responding to a question about her fondness for potatoes or her fondest memory of a departed family member or friend, Dolly Parton speaks from the heart, but still speaks her mind.

When it comes to her life-altering but complicated relationship with Porter Wagoner, Dolly never neglects her offering of gratitude to the head Wagonmaster.   Porter put Parton front and center before his millions of faithful viewers on The Porter Wagoner Show.  The prestige, however, came at a price.  Porter Wagoner was the star and not known as an easy taskmaster.  Dolly Parton immediately stands out but her talents find no immediate appreciation after the “Green Green Grass of Home” singer dismisses his longtime and beloved singer, Norma Jean Beasler, without so much as a going-away present or a blade of soft grass.

Dolly Parton takes on more than an uphill battle, as a feature in Showbiz CheatSheet confirms.  The ever-positive entertainer, without warning, had to take the spotlight away from the woman singing on Porter Wagoner’s stage for seven years.  Her debut leaves more than a bad feeling.  On the contrary, what Dolly Parton imagines as the best days of her life feels like death.

Stepping into Norma Jean’s big shoes seems like the ultimate crime to Dolly Parton

Reflecting from her own press release in the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton, the characteristically bubbly entertainer expressed the empathy and dread mixed into her debut with Porter Wagoner.  She had no idea how soon she would step into the new role that she never expected.

Ironically, when Dolly Parton got the call from Porter Wagoner to have a meeting, the delighted Dolly came with the guitar in tow.  She expected to write songs for the host and Norma Jean Beasler. Instead, Porter Wagoner announces on the spot that Norma Jean is leaving his show.  He inquires if Parton has any interest in becoming the “new girl singer,” as she relates in her song memoir Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. Even beyond the premier national exposure, the pay was more than Parton had ever earned.  She accepts the $60,000 per year gig and she soon learns that the initial early songs come with pain.

This time, the “Jolene” songwriter was in the position of “the other woman” professionally.  Dolly Parton admits she had “big, big shoes” to fill, referring to status over size– no lady likes to divulge that figure!  She confesses that she “had no idea how hard it was really going to be” to step into her performance high heels and gain acceptance from the audience that admired Norma Jean.  Parton describes her first few performances as “torture” and equates the feeling of taking the stage with the unfriendly audience as “like murder.” Now, that’s a sharp contrast for the effervescent Dolly!

Dolly and Norma Jean have some things in common

Coincidentally, it’s quite a surprise to discover that Dolly Parton and Norma Jean Beasler have many things in common, besides Porter Wagoner and their love of country music.

Dolly Parton chronicles every treasured memory, every taste, sight, smell, and adventure in her Sevier County, Tennessee youth.  Every spin of her CDs or vinyl albums takes listeners back to the days of simple joys and the value of love, courage, and faith over anything that comes from a store.  Norma Jean grew up in Oklahoma, but like Dolly, she already was a star before age 12.

Whereas Dolly Parton opts for the sparkle, “the gaud” and the brilliant colors in her stage costumes, one look at Norma Jean lets anyone know that she never minds fitting in with the band.   Beasler frequently added her warm tones to “Foggy Mountain Top” with the Wagonmasters. Similarly, Dolly and Norma adored Kitty Wells Parton’s lofty blonde hair takes a departure from Norma Jean’s simple brown coif.  Nonetheless, both ladies.  One of the photos Parton most treasures is of herself and the “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” legend beaming face to face.

By fate or divine country music Providence, Dolly Parton, and Norma Jean Beasler share January birthdays and both dedicated artists spent seven years with the same boss, Porter Wagoner, counting 1961 when Norma Jean joined the show.  Although no artist equals Dolly Parton’s Guinness World Record success, Beasler recorded 20 albums for RCA and received two Grammy nominations for her contribution to her genre.

Porter and Dolly make peace

As it happens, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner made perfect harmony singing duets on the tour bus, where the atmosphere isn’t always pleasant. Ultimately, the host decides to feature duets as his way to introduce his talented new artist, much more than a singer, to the audience.  In a relatively short time, Dolly Parton wins over viewers and her in-person audience with her gifted writing, singing, and infectious spirit.

Dolly Parton signed on to stay five years with Porter Wagoner.  In the end, she stayed for seven and the tensions between the two took a toll.   The “Coat of Many Colors” artist fully realizes that she has more artistic colors than simply a girl singer.  She offers “I Will Always Love You” as her parting gift to Porter.  He cries while listening to the longing ballad, but still asks to produce it.  Dolly Parton agrees, and at last, she is free to let herself shine.

Putting aside the brooding feuds, a lawsuit, and any lingering angst, Dolly Parton came to Porter Wagoner in his last days.

“I was with Porter when he was dying,” Dolly Parton speaks of 2007.   “I forgave him and I thanked him for all the opportunities he gave me.   Just as with her ageless songs, “I wanted him to know exactly how I felt,” Dolly stresses.  An open heart knows how to set things right.

Do you have a favorite Dolly Parton song?   Keep up with Country Music Alley for the latest news and brand-new music from your favorite artists!  We love hearing from readers, so give a shout-out in the comments below!

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