Is the inspiration for Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” a Canadian named Juline?

Juline Whelan as a child and now – photo via The Province

This story will be so cool if it turns out to be true.

By now you’ve probably heard the story behind one of Dolly Parton‘s most beloved songs, Jolene. Dolly says the song came about when a little red-haired girl came up to the stage for an autograph early in her career. She says she told the little girl she was the prettiest thing she’d ever seen and then asked her her name.

The little girl said her name was Jolene. That’s when Dolly decided the name was pretty enough for song lyrics and told the little girl, “I’m going to write a song about you and if you ever hear it, you’ll know it’s about you.”

Dolly kept that promise and in October of 1973, Jolene was released.

But here’s an interesting twist, a Canadian woman has now come forward who believes she is might just be that infamous little girl with the red hair who inspired Dolly’s song. The thing is, her name isn’t actually Jolene.

Juline Whelan of Prince George tells The Province that all her life people have sung the lyrics to Jolene to her because her name was so close. She says it’s always annoyed her.

But then something happened.

After the death of her parents, Whelan and her siblings were going through their belongings when she happened to come across a picture Parton had autographed to her years and years before. But on the autograph, Dolly had mistakenly written Juline’s name as Jolene. Whelan says it’s a common mistake.

That autograph jogged Whelan’s memory of a time when she was a little girl in the early 70s when her family had driven down to Los Angeles for summer vacation. They visited Knott’s Berry Farm where Pat Boone, Porter Wagoner, and a relatively unknown Dolly Parton were performing.

“I didn’t know who Porter Wagoner was, let alone Dolly Parton, but he said, ‘Here’s this new young singer who’s starting out in her career,’ and people were invited back to meet her after the show. So we did,” Whelan says.

She explains that she was shy but went up to Dolly for an autograph. That’s when she says the conversation about her unique – and apparently misheard – name happened.

She says she was always aware of Dolly’s song Jolene growing up, but didn’t really put two and two together until she found the autographed photo. That’s when she went to YouTube and found an interview Dolly did on Norwegian television where she explained how the title of the song came about.


“I got the name from a little girl that had come up to the stage for an autograph in my early, early career. And I said, ‘You are the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.’ And she had this red hair, green eyes, fair skin. I said ‘What is your name?’ and she said ‘Jolene’.

“I said, ‘Well that’s just the prettiest name I ever heard.’ … I said ‘I’m going to write a song about you and if you ever hear it, you’ll know it’s about you.’”

And now, all these years later, it sounds like she does finally know it’s all about her.

Well all of it except the part about stealing her man and all that, but the name pat anyway.

Of course, without Dolly’s help there’s not really any way to prove the story is true or not. Fortunately, Whelan has a plan for that. She says she’s hoping to meet the superstar when she performs in Vancouver on Sept. 19.

So fingers crossed she gets her answer then.