Why Dolly Parton Loves Spending Time in Graveyards

Dolly Parton remains one of music’s most beloved icons. Writing many of her own songs, Parton has crossed many music genres from country to spiritual to pop. The 9 to 5 singer revealed that she often finds inspiration in a very unusual place.

Dolly Parton wearing a pink jacket
Dolly Parton | Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Dolly Parton has been writing in cemeteries for decades

Parton has always been open about her love of cemeteries. In a 1977 interview, Parton suggested they conduct the Q&A in a nearby graveyard.

“I love cemeteries,” she told Rolling Stone, according to the book Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. She added with a laugh, “You know, people are dyin’ to get into ’em. Really, I write in cemeteries a lot. Nobody bothers you there.”

In a later interview with Good Morning America, she was asked again about her unique choice of songwriting venues.

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“That’s not a morbid thing,” she explained in 1984. “I love cemeteries because when I was growing up, that was some of the best kept – you know, people always took care of the graves, it’s like a golf course. It’s a very peaceful, quiet place to go where nobody but weirdos like me really want to hang out. I don’t go there just to hang out with the dead, the dead don’t scare me … it’s the living that’s got me frightened.” 

Dolly Parton gets inspiration from headstones

The multi-Grammy winner described how she gets ideas for characters in her songs by reading names on gravestones.

“I love to go sit under trees and things, and I walk around and I read the stories,” Parton shared. “I get a lot of ideas of lives. I imagine lives for all the people behind the stones there and when they died and how they lived. I get a lot of ideas – I just kind of sit there, and ideas come.”

Parton explained how she could piece together someone’s life story from what’s written on the tombstone and the location of the grave.

“I just think, well I bet this was probably a happy couple… or probably this or probably that,” she said. “Or I bet this was a weirdo guy because he’s over here by himself. So I just get ideas from it. And it’s just a peaceful, beautiful place to go… I don’t think that’s weird, do you? I don’t hang out there at night.” 

‘Out of the Silence’ was written in a cemetery

Parton continues to frequent cemeteries, revealing she recently had lunch at a nearby gravesite with a relative.

“My niece and I had a picnic in a graveyard three days ago,” Parton told The Boot in September 2020. “I just love walking through them and looking at [the headstones]. I just love to imagine what people’s lives were like.”

The Jolene singer wrote one of her earliest songs for Porter Wagoner in a graveyard called “Out of the Silence (Came a Song)”. Some of the lyrics include:

“Then I saw a vision of myself my legs were bent and lame

Not only was I crippled but I couldn’t speak my name

And then I saw a graveyard with my own funeral going on

Then out of the silence came a song”

Lyrics.com

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“I was thinking about all those people in their graves,” Parton said of what inspired her to write the song, according to Popsugar, “wondering about their lives, of all the things that might have happened to them.”

She added that she finds her creativity on a myriad of topics in cemeteries due to the tranquil environment.

“Even if I wasn’t writing about the people in the graveyard, I’ve written many songs just being in that peaceful environment,” she said. “And read many a book.”