Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

Exclusive Video: Taking “Jolene” All the Way

Nadine Hubbs Imagines a Queer Ending to the Iconic Dolly Song

By Dale Henry Geist, Editor

Image by Christine De Carvalho, Courtesy of WNYC Studios

Last year, when I had a job, I listened to podcasts on my commute up Highway 12. Naturally, one of them was the great “Dolly Parton’s America,” hosted by Jad Abumrad. I was enjoying the episode on the iconic Dolly song “Jolene” when, suddenly, out on that highway, worlds collided. Abumrad (whose father, by the way, gave Dolly the “Jolene vaccine” just last week) was chatting with producer Shima Oliaee about the incredible diversity of Dolly’s audience when, much to my surprise and delight, they announced as a guest someone I actually know: writer and scholar Nadine Hubbs.

When I was preparing to launch Country Queer a couple years ago, I read Professor Hubbs’ essential “Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music,” which explores the complex relationship between rural folks, including queer ones, and cultural stereotypes about them. I even reached out to Hubbs early on in the life of CQ to see if they had any advice. (“Good luck!” was the general gist.)

I hadn’t known that Hubbs was a musician, too, but the hosts introduced Hubbs’ melodica and guitar at the same time as Hubbs herself. This knowledge tickled my own writer/musician soul. There’s some introductory chat, including insights about the tonality of the song (unusually for a pop song, it’s in Dorian mode), and the fact that their parents were such serious Dolly fans that they have a little sister named – you guessed it – Jolene.

Then Hubbs begins to elaborate on the homoerotic undertones of “Jolene”. The lyric, after all, waxes rhapsodic, and at some length, about Jolene’s charms. Hubbs says she imagines a fourth verse in which the singer and Jolene run off together.

“Someone should write that,” Abumrad says.

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Dolly Parton and Brandi Carlile
Dolly and Brandi Carlile at the Newport Folk Festival, 2019

Cut to (because this is in fact a podcast where there are cuts): Hubbs has gone away and written this verse. She pulls out her guitar and plays it – and it’s good!

Cut to (because we can use cinematic conventions as narrative shortcuts) Hubbs emails me a few days ago and offers CQ an exclusive video of them playing “Queer Jolene.” (“Hell yes!” was the general gist of my reply.)

This video was shot for and appeared in (as an excerpt), the University of Michigan Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series, “Making ‘Dolly Parton’s America.’” Do check out the whole video – it’s worth it.

And here, for your listening pleasure, is Nadine Hubbs performing “Queer Jolene.”