Why Dolly Parton’s Father Once Cussed out a Preacher
Dolly Parton grew up in a very religious family under the guidance of her evangelist grandfather, Reverend Jake Owens. The Queen of Country and her siblings spent a lot of time singing in their grandpa’s church. But they also went around singing in other churches in town. During one of those outings, Parton’s father, Robert Lee Parton, didn’t like how the preacher was worshipping. In fact, he was terrified.
Brother Jake was a ‘Holy Roller’ preacher
In the “Dumb Blonde” singer’s 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, she reminisces fondly about the time she spent in church with her family.
“I often talk about my grandpa, the Reverend Jake Owens, ‘Brother Jake,'” she wrote. “He was a Pentecostal, ‘Holy Roller’ preacher, and allowed us to express ourselves, to make that ‘Joyful Noise,’ as he called it. We would sing gospel songs, but he didn’t require us to. If I’d written a song with my guitar, I could get up and sing that. We even had a little band in our church, made up of our family members. You were allowed to get up and just express your gifts. If my grandpa thought you had a gift that was God-given, it didn’t have to be just a sacred song.”
The church was more than just a place of worship for Parton and the other members of the congregation. It was a place to gather and have fun.
“I loved the freedom of that church,” she wrote. “And it was a good thing, too, because people went to our church for recreation and entertainment. We had little else to do.”
Thanks to “the freedom of that church,” young Dolly had a place to experiment with her songwriting.
“The music that was born out of that church kind of shaped and molded my whole career—sometimes in ways that I don’t even understand,” she said.
Dolly Parton’s father was terrified of snakes
It wasn’t uncommon for Parton and her siblings to lend their musical talents to nearby churches. During one of those performances, Parton and her family experienced a new kind of worship they’d never seen before. the “Jolene” singer’s father, in particular, was not a fan.
“One time, we sang in a church that drew out sin by handling snakes,” she wrote. “We didn’t have that in our church. When those snakes came out, my daddy came running down the aisle, cussing the preacher in the middle of that church. He wanted his kids out of there. He was scared to death of snakes, and he didn’t believe in that kind of worship.”
How Dolly Parton views religion today
While religion played a significant role in who Parton is and greatly influenced her songwriting, she is not religious today.
“I’m not that religious, but I’m very, very spiritual,” she wrote. “I grew up in very religious surroundings. I grew up with a Bible background, and I’m glad I did. I know my Bible stories, like the ones I mention in [‘The Master’s Hand’]. I’m glad I’ve been everywhere, done everything, and been exposed to other people’s beliefs. I ‘get’ all of it. And I don’t condemn the sincerity of anybody’s faith.”
“I don’t follow any traditions,” she continued. “I don’t think I have to, because I believe my church is in my heart. God is right there. But those gospel songs are so embedded in me. That music means so much to me, to this day.”