Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner will forever go down as one of country music’s greatest duos. They had many hits together. But there was one song (that wasn’t a hit) that fans demanded of Parton and Wagoner whenever they’d play. That song was “Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark.” Here’s what the Queen of Country has to say about the fan-favorite.
‘Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark’ by Dolly Parton, sung with Porter Wagoner
In Parton’s words, “Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark” is about “a child who died. She was afraid of the dark. Because the little girl was afraid of the dark, they put an eternal flame on her grave.” Parton based the song on the fact that she’s always hated the dark “ever since I was a child.”
I think we always knew that we’d never see Jeannie grown
Because it seemed she was destined to die
But on Jeannie’s grave, we placed an eternal flame
That glows and never loses its spark
And on the darkest night, there’s always a light
Because Jeannie’s afraid of the dark
‘Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark’ was ‘one of the biggest duet favorites’
“Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark” only reached No. 51 on the carts, but it became the most-requested song by fans when Parton and Wagoner played shows.
“It wasn’t that big of a hit, but if Porter and I didn’t sing it during our shows, people were very disappointed,” Parton wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “They wanted that song. Porter did the recitation, and I’d sing the lyric. We were good at that.”
The “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” singer has never been one to shy away from difficult topics.
“[‘Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark’] addressed the fact that there are many children who do die,” wrote Parton. “Everywhere, but especially in the mountains, where it’s cold and they can’t get medical care. Maybe they died of pneumonia, or maybe they’re born with a condition. Sometimes it’s something you don’t even know about until the child is gone, like a hole in his heart.”
The song reminds Dolly Parton of losing her brother, Larry
“Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark” hits home for Parton for another reason: She lost her brother, Larry, when he was a baby.
“I lost my little brother, Larry,” she wrote. “Because there were so many of us, Mama would kind of assign each new baby to one of us, to look after. Like, ‘This is going to be your baby.’ Larry was going to be ‘my’ baby. I had planned and worked so hard to be ready for him, to be his ‘little mama.’ Then when he died, it just absolutely crushed me, crushed me. I still start crying when I think about little Larry. I was at a very vulnerable age . It was like I’d lost a baby of my own.”
The memory has stuck with Parton all these years.
“Death was new to me at that time,” she wrote. “I was trying so hard to deal with death, with sorrow, with grief. There was a little dead baby there. I remember seeing him in his little coffin, and I just couldn’t connect all that. Sorry to get so emotional, but that’s a really hard thing.”
Now, whenever Parton sings “Jeanie’s Afraid of the Dark,” she always thinks of Larry.
“I think people can relate to that,” she wrote.
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