Radio Bristol Book Club: Songteller - My Life in Lyrics - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Radio Bristol Book Club: Songteller – My Life in Lyrics

This image shows one of the inside spreads of the Songteller book. On the left page is a photograph of Dolly in her younger years. She is sitting on a front porch/steps area in a mint green tank top and yellow pants. Her blond hair is pulled up and away from her face. The right page has the lyrics to one of her songs, "Something Fishy."

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

This month’s book is Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton with Robert K. Oermann. This beautiful coffee table book is a joy and an inspiration to read – from cover to cover, or just dipping into the individual stories behind your favorite songs. Told in her own words, Dolly mines over 60 years of songwriting to share the personal stories, candid insights, and vivid memories behind 175 of her songs. She explores the earliest song she wrote (at age six!), familiar and well-loved hits like “Coat of Many Colors,” “9 to 5,” and “I Will Always Love You,” and songs she performed with other artists like “Tomorrow is Forever” (Porter Wagoner) and “Let Her Fly” (Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette) – amongst so many others. It’s not only the insights and the history behind Dolly’s huge songwriting catalog that make this book special; the reader also gets to enjoy wonderful images from throughout her career, photographs of important and personal ephemera and objects that have been saved over the years, and a hint of her “secret song,” locked in a display case at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and set to be open in 2045!

The book cover is a pale aqua with red writing; it also has some decorative floral elements in a darker aqua around the central oval. In the central oval there is a black-and-white photograph of a young Dolly Parton. She is a white woman with big loosely curled blond hair, large hoop earrings, and a denim shirt. She is looking over her shoulder.
The cover of Dolly Parton’s Songteller.

Dolly Parton needs no introduction, but just in case you don’t know her and her work well, here are the basics: Born in East Tennessee, Parton began singing and performing at an early age, taking her talent and determination all the way to Nashville – and beyond. She is the most honored and revered female country singer-songwriter of all time, with numerous awards, bestselling albums, and Top 10 hits. She has also acted to great acclaim, and she is well-known for her charity work, most especially her Imagination Library, which has gifted over 130 million books to children across the world. Journalist Robert K. Oermann has been called “the unofficial historian of Nashville’s musical heritage.” When he first came to Nashville, he worked as a reference librarian at the Country Music Hall of Fame; since then he has written nine books, worked on documentary films, and produced pieces for numerous media outlets including The Tennessean, Rolling Stone, and Esquire.

This photograph shows an older white man wearing a dark flue denim button-down shirt over a tee. He has black-rimmed glasses and white thinning hair. He is sitting in a burgandy/brown patterned chair with bookshelves/record shelves and other home decor behind him.
Author Robert K. Oermann. Taken by Larry McCormack for The Tennessean

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, December 23at 12:00pm for the discussion of Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton with Robert K. Oermann. After our discussion, we’ll have the chance to chat to Oermann about his work with Dolly on this wonderful book. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time – even better, pick up a physical copy and look at it while listening to the audiobook version, thus getting the best of both worlds! We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app.

Looking ahead: Our book pick for January is Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, January 27. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

Rene Rodgers is Head Curator of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and a Dolly fan.