With Christmas rapidly approaching, it’s apparent that singer, songwriter and super children’s book patron Dolly Parton has the solution for what to give the country music lovers in your life.

Atop the wish list sits “Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics,” (Chronicle Books, $40), a celebration of the extraordinary life and career of the country music and pop-culture legend.

Between the book’s covers, Parton, who was born Jan. 19, 1946, in Sevier County, Tenn., shares the stories behind 175 of her songs including “Coat of Many Colors”, “Jolene”, “9 to 5”, “I Will Always Love You”, “Love Is Like a Butterfly”, “Here You Come Again” and “My Tennessee Mountain Home.”

The 380-page tome, which weighs five pounds, overflows with 300 photographs, some that have never been published and others that display classic Parton memorabilia.

Assisting Parton on the massive undertaking was Music City journalist Robert K. Oermann, who is considered the “unofficial historian of Nashville’s musical heritage.” The Pittsburgh native began his magnificent obsession with music while clerking as a teenager in his grandmother’s record shop where she paid him with used 45 rpm records.  

It was upon hearing Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” that inspired the writer to mine the depths of country music.

“I heard ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and that changed my life. The first time I heard it I cried. I thought, ‘Who is that?’ I was like, ‘Oh, my, that is the most powerful piece of writing.’ It compelled me to explore country music,” said Oermann.

He later made his way to Nashville, and one day in the late 1970s or early ’80s, he sat down for his first interview with Parton, a moment frozen in his memory bank.

“I remember being afraid to look at her because she was so beautiful. I was afraid I would forget my next question. I was so in awe of her. I kept my face in my notebook. I love hanging out with her to this very day. She’s just a great person,” he said.

The book project

Oermann described his role on “Dolly Parton, Storyteller: My Life in Lyrics,” saying, “I was kind of a project manager. This is Dolly’s book. I was only hired to put it together. I let Dolly say it the way she wanted to say it. It was not like an interview with a journalist. My agenda was to let her guide the process. I was more of being a conduit for her to say what she wanted to say.”

Work on the book began about a year ago and assimilating all the pieces proved a difficult chore due to a tight deadline.

In order to familiarize the Chronicle Books team with its subject, Oermann showed the staff around Dollywood in Pigeon Forge and then brought it to Nashville with a meeting with Parton’s manager and office staff. Next, he escorted the group backstage at the “Grand Ole Opry” the night Parton celebrated her 50th anniversary on the legendary radio show. Later, he took the book’s graphic designer, Neil Egan, to the Country Music Hall of Fame, which holds a bevy of Parton treasures.

“We looked at her archives there and at the public library archives. We also went to Dolly’s office in Brentwood to look at stuff out there, and I took Neil to her publishing office on Music Row and introduced him to the different photo archives that had Dolly’s stuff and then turned him loose on the graphics,” said Oermann.

“In January, Dolly and I started getting together and talking about the songs. We worked on this over a couple of days. She was completely tireless. I would be exhausted, and she would say, ‘Let’s keep going,’ and I would say, ‘No, we have to rest.’

“We did all that. Then I had it transcribed, and I would go back to Dolly and say, ‘I need a little bit more of this’ or ‘let’s work on the story of this song.’ Just seeing where the holes were that needed to be filled in. Then the pandemic hit.

“From that time on we communicated by phone, and we faxed back and forth on the lyrics to clarify some of the things she said. Lots of little details that went on for maybe two months or so. Then we did the proofing. All the photos and graphics and the song lyrics that she didn’t own had to be cleared.”

And the results? After hundreds of hours put in by a team effort, he couldn’t be more pleased.

“It’s a beautiful coffee-table book loaded with graphics and lyrics to her songs,” said Oermann.

“I wanted the book to be a celebration of a great American, which I think she is. I think fans will enjoy the fact that the lyrics are all in one place and enjoy the fact that it is so beautifully laid out. It’s a keepsake. I think the fans will come away with a real appreciation for her as a really deep-thinking songwriter because it’s about her songs.”

Describing the experience of working with Parton, he said, “She is everything you would dream she would be and more: smart, funny and so kind. I think the world of her. I have known her for 40 years, and my admiration has never stopped. The funniest thing that happened: She told me, ‘I knew it was inevitable that we would end up working on something like this.’ ”

The music historian, who contributes a weekly column to “Music Row Magazine,” sets his sights next on a book about Blacks in country music. Among his previous works are “Behind the Grand Ole Opry Curtain: Tales of Romance and Tragedy”, “A Century of Country: An Illustrated History of Country Music”, “America’s Music: The Roots of Country” and “Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music,” which he wrote with his wife, Mary A. Bufwack.

Parton, 74, has had 26 No. 1 songs on the “Billboard” country charts, a record for a female artist. She has donated more than 143 million books to children around the world via her Imagination Library.


Here’s what’s new from Country Music Hall of Famer Dolly Parton:

“Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics” This just-released visual memoir and annotated songbook offers a look at Dolly’s career as a songwriter, musician and country legend. Fans can learn about the stories behind the lyrics to her most famous songs in her own words, along with photographs and memorabilia. The book is also available in audiobook form and CD. 

“A Holly Dolly Christmas” This is Parton’s first holiday album in 30 years. Five of the tunes were written solely by Parton with one additional song with Kent Wells. Duet partners on the album include Michael Bublé, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus, Jimmy Fallon, Willie Nelson, Darren and Rhonda Vincent and Dolly’s brother Randy Parton.

“Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” Debuted Sunday, Nov. 22 on Netflix. The film stars Parton, Christine Baranski, Jenifer Lewis, Treat Williams and Jeanine Mason and includes 14 original songs composed by Parton.

“Dolly: The Ultimate Collection” Parton’s first deluxe DVD collection offers 35 hours on 19 DVDs from Parton’s TV variety shows from the 1970s and ’80s, “The Porter Wagoner Show”, her Live From London concert, the “Dolly Parton: Here I Am” documentary and a new interview with Parton.

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