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Jolene, Jolene, Jolene

Local woman may have been part of inspiration for Dolly Parton hit song
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Juline Whelan, seen in a composite photo showing her as a child and today, believes she may be part of the inspiration behind Dolly Parton's hit song Jolene.

It never crossed her mind that she might be the one, but it sure crossed the minds of a lot of people she met in life.

Prince George's Juline Whelan could hardly get past initial introductions without some people singing back to her, in the sweet timbre of country megastar Dolly Parton: "Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jo-leeeeene, I'm beggin' of you, please don't take my man."

It was annoying. Some people did it so often she had to ask them to please cease and desist.

And it wasn't even her name.

It's still only a question mark, but it became a flashing neon question mark when she discovered even Dolly Parton may have been confused about her name, and may have indeed written the song with her in mind.

The enormously popular song was written and released by Parton in 1973-74.

About two years before that, Whelan and her family and a childhood friend had gone on a special trip, driving down to the Los Angeles area for a long summer vacation. Part of the fun was a trip to Knott's Berry Farm amusement park.

A country music performance was happening there at the same time starring Pat Boone, his daughter Debby Boone, Porter Wagoner, and his teenaged protge, a little-known up-and-comer named Dolly Parton who had one solo song gaining popularity at the time: Coat Of Many Colors. She and Wagoner also had their hit duet Last Thing on My Mind going for them.

"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," said Whelan.

She was a shy girl, but she got the nerve to amble up to the rising star and say hello and get an autographed picture. She remembers being able to say little but Parton was pleasant with her, complimenting her overtly on her name, and saying it was so nice she was in the mind to write a song with it.

Hardly anyone in the 1970s or the 20 years after could avoid hearing the Parton hit Jolene. It lasts to this day with popular versions by the likes of The White Stripes, Melissa Etheridge, Alison Krauss, Katy Perry, Ellie Goulding, Keith Urban and Miley Cyrus (her cover for the Backyard Sessions video series is considered by some to be one of the most effective covers in all pop music).

What didn't click with Whelan over all those years, even with the song brought to her attention time after time, was the subject matter. Parton's story is of a woman appealing to another woman in a time of domestic angst. The protagonist's lover also has feelings and history with another - Jolene - and the lyrics are a passionate, vulnerable appeal to Jolene to give on the issue.

No personal connection there, in Whelan's mind, and there was no more thought put to it.

But after the death of Whelan's parents, as she and her siblings were going through the leftover papers and records within the family estate, she came across that photo Parton autographed so long ago. It was made out to Jolene. Somehow, and clearly it's an oft-made mistake in Whelan's life, Parton misheard the introduction and believed the little red-headed girl before her to be named not Juline, but Jolene.

Could that have been enough to trigger a lyrical poem? Whelan went looking for answers. She found out through online research that the song's content was stimulated by a bank teller who flirted once with her husband, popping the sentiments loose that went into the story.

However, in a relatively recent video interview done for Norwegian TV music show NRK Lydverket, Parton disclosed another aspect to that song's writing process.

"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, and I said 'What is your name?' and she said 'Jolene' and I said 'Oh, I bet you're named after your dad, I bet your dad's named Joe' and she said 'No, it's just Jolene.' I said 'Well that's just the prettiest name I ever heard' so I started, just saying, Jolene, Jolene, Joleeeeene and I said 'I'm going to write a song about you and if you ever hear it, you'll know it's about you.'"

Well it took awhile, but Whelan has tumbled at last to at least consider the possibility that she is the one.

The literal question - put to Parton's public relations representatives by Whelan and The Citizen separately - has not yet been directly answered. It leaves her with no resolution to the fun mystery, but it leaves her with a renewed interest and appreciation for the song.

Now, when people hear her name and automatically sing the chorus to her, Whelan can surmise that the first to do so was the one and only Dolly Parton.