Dolly Parton’s Mythologised Persona, Collective Life Writing, and Building a Home for LGBTQ+ Listeners in Country Music
Keywords:Country Music, LGBTQ Audiences, Life Writing, Collective Persona
This article conceptualises persona and life writing as being collectively constituted to explore multiplicity in the way country artist Dolly Parton’s persona can be constructed by LGBTQ+ audiences. I use the idea of mythmaking, where myths are neither true nor false, to explore how Parton’s persona and life writing challenge dominant narratives and assumptions around LGBTQ+ belonging in country music, a genre that is increasingly being re-evaluated in terms of its LGBTQ+ representation and queer resonances. Parton’s persona is deeply invested in her constructed life story that represents a collective mythology around the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, Appalachia, and country music. This paper uses close readings of Parton’s songs ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’ to explore how these texts enable LGBTQ+ listeners to anchor themselves within the life-writing practices of her country music and Appalachia. ‘Coat of Many Colors’ uses an episode from Parton’s life story to work through class and regional representations that also have the potential to resonate with LGBTQ+ experiences through the renegotiation of narratives of shame that become reworked into pride and acceptance. My reading of ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’ expands on this using the idea of home and the affective role this has within queer narratives to explore how Parton situates LGBTQ+ experiences within the genre of country music. The final part of this article considers the importance of anti-racism and intersectional critiques of overly romanticised narratives around Parton to ensure multiplicity when conceptualising the role of persona in Parton’s work.
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