How Much Will Dolly Parton Make From Beyoncé’s ‘Jolene’ Cover?

Photo: Valerie Macon/James Devaney (Getty Images)
Photo: Valerie Macon/James Devaney (Getty Images)
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Name one singer in the history of Country music that Black folks embrace more than Dolly Parton. I’ll wait.

The Tennessee-born living legend has spent a nearly 60-year career racking up timeless hits and endearing herself to folks who adore her tunes and her trademark sass. She also deserves props for her philanthropic work and her overt appreciation for Black folks, which seems counterintuitive coming from a white Country star born in the mid-20th century deep south.

At 78, Parton is being exposed to a new generation of music listeners via her presence on Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter,” her “country” album that dropped Friday. She shows up on two of the album’s 27 tracks, including an introduction to Bey’s version of her hit “Jolene.”

While Parton’s 1973 original pleads with the titular character to not steal her man, Bey’s version is more threatening: Jolene might just get cut for messing around.

Bey’s cover is receiving lots of well-deserved love (from folks who aren’t stodgy Country “purists” who may be just a little racist), so how much money does Parton stand to make on it?

It’s worth noting that Parton made shrewd business moves as a young lady in the 1960s that help fill her plate to this day: Because she founded Owe-Par Publishing Company with her uncle Bill Owens, Parton retains the publishing rights to all her songs – a claim many music legends can’t make. Since she wrote and recorded her own music, she continues raking in big bank from royalties alone: Forbes revealed in 2021 that “Jolene” and “9 to 5” alone net her as much as $8 million a year.

Her businesswoman chops gave us one of the best remakes of all time: Elvis Presley wanted to cover her 1974 chart-topping hit “I Will Always Love You” 50 years ago, but his people insisted she sign over half the publishing rights to the song. Parton wasn’t having it, so it didn’t happen.

Of course, Whitney Houston covered the song nearly two decades later for “The Bodyguard” soundtrack, and high-octave history was made.

Houston’s cover allegedly got Parton $10 million in royalties in the 1990s, though that number shot up when everyone started streaming the song again following Houston’s 2012 death by drowning.

Parton told Andy Cohen in 2021 that she used the money from the “Love You” remake to purchase property in a predominantly Black area of Nashville.

“I bought a property down in what was the Black area of town, and it was mostly just Black families and people that lived around there,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is the perfect place for me to be’, considering it was Whitney.”

‘Jolene, Jolene...’

“Jolene” is Parton’s most famous song and has been covered many times by the likes Kelly Clarkson, Olivia Newton-John, Miley Cyrus and Lil’ Nas X (!!!) It’s no reach to suggest that Bey’s cover will be the most popular, considering “Cowboy Carter” is already breaking major records – it’s Spotify’s most-streamed album in a single day this year. The album also has the most first day streams for any female country album in the history of Amazon Music.

It’s never easy to determine exactly what an artist makes from any given track or album, let alone how much of a cut the writers of the songs get. But we know that Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music pay somewhere between four and eight thousandths of a penny per stream.

But figure “Jolene” will be one of the more popular streams from “Cowboy Carter” – certainly it’s been streamed millions of times in the time it takes me to write this – and that Parton gets some portion of those thousandths of a penny every time it streams.

Of course, Parton makes even more money from stream of her own original version of “Jolene,” which she urged folks to stream ahead of the “Cowboy Carter” release. There’s no telling how many young folks listened to her version for the very first time, though the track on her official YouTube page has 91 million views.

The music industry has changed dramatically since the early 1990s, so it’s uncertain if Parton will make the same amount from Bey’s “Jolene” that she did from Houston’s “Love You” cover. But considering that “Cowboy Carter’s” monster run is just getting started, we can safely assume that Bey’s “Jolene” will add more than a few coins to Parton’s rumored half-a-billion-dollar net worth.

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