Flashback: See the Judds Cover Dolly Parton's 'Coat of Many Colors' - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: See the Judds Cover Dolly Parton’s ‘Coat of Many Colors’

Mother-daughter duo sings Parton’s autobiographical classic for an episode of the ‘Ralph Emery Show’

After Kentucky native Naomi Judd moved to Nashville in 1979, she soon began working as a nurse in the nearby towns of Murfreesboro and Franklin while her young daughters Wynonna and Ashley attended school. Wynonna, a Franklin High student, was a member of the Pep Club, played softball and was also in the Sportsman’s Club there, but her early mornings were often spent with Naomi at Nashville’s WSM-TV studios as the pair appeared frequently on the Ralph Emery Show, usually taking the stage following the morning’s farm report. 

Emery, whom Wynonna later recalled mistakenly reffering to them as “Wyoming” and “Nairobi” in his first introduction, would dub the duo the Soap Sisters after Naomi explained that she handcrafted her own lye soap. Still a couple of years away from their recording contract with RCA and the media training that new artists often receive, the Judds would charm the early-morning viewing audience with their unfiltered, simple approach not only to singing but to presenting themselves.

The Judds debut on the Emery show took place February 11th, 1980, and for each appearance they earned twenty-five dollars apiece. During one of their guest spots, the pair sang one of Dolly Parton’s most-beloved tunes, “Coat of Many Colors.” Just a few years earlier, on her 30th birthday, January 11th, 1976, Naomi had received a Parton album as a gift, after which she and her 11-year-old daughter began learning the song. As they harmonized on it, Naomi noticed that her father had tears in his eyes, an anecdote she recalled in her 1993 autobiography Love Can Build a Bridge and to which Wynonna alludes in the above video. The elder Judd told his daughter and granddaughters that he, too, had a coat of many colors as a young child, which had been hand-sewn by his mother from remnants of old clothes. 

Dolly Parton and the Judds would later appear together in concert, including a 1987 Mother’s Day show in Chicago during which the “unsung” Judd, Ashley, made a rare stage appearance to surprise her mom. Dolly also had a cameo role, as herself, in the 1995 NBC miniseries based on Naomi’s memoir.

This clip, (awhich ends before the song is actually over, unfortunately), closes with a solo from guitarist Jimmy “Spider” Wilson, a regular fixture on the WSM morning show and also at the Grand Ole Opry, who died in 2015.

In This Article: Dolly Parton, Wynonna


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