Dolly at the Jamboree, photo courtesy of the The Intelligencer.

Dolly Parton’s Unforgettable Visit to The Friendly City

Dolly Parton. Her name is a complete sentence, as far as I’m concerned. An absolute legend in the country music scene. A woman who turned down an invitation to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A titan of music. I could gush on and on. I’m a pretty big fan. So imagine my surprise when I saw a little sentence that read, “Dolly Parton performs at the Jamboree in Wheeling.” Shock, amazement, a need to know more. How has no one ever told me?! So, allow me to tell you.

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagner, the man who helped her get her start.

Dolly’s name is such a pillar in country music. She was raised deep in Appalachia, along the Great Smoky Mountains, as one of twelve children. Music was a big part of her childhood, she started singing in her church when she was a child. By the time she was ten, she had been given a guitar and a spot singing on a TV variety show in Knoxville. Dreaming of more, Dolly made her way to Nashville, where she made her Grand Ole Opry debut at age thirteen. By eighteen she had moved to Nashville permanently. On her first day living there, she met the man she would later beg Joleen not to take, her future husband, Carl Dean. After years of putting out beautiful songs, she had her first top 40 hit with the song “Dumb Blonde,” which critiqued the stereotypes that women often face. From there, her success only grew.

Dolly Visits The Friendly City

Dolly sang her heart out in Wheeling more than once. According to The World’s Original WWVA Jamboree History-Picture Book, she sang at the Jamboree on April 12 and July 12, 1969. She returned to Wheeling in 1974 for “the most exciting year in the history of the Jamboree” according to the director at the time, F. Gleen Reeves. In 1976, Dolly was the Country Music Association’s female vocalist of the year and came back to the Jamboree again.

Dolly’s picture from The World’s Original WWVA Jamboree History-Picture Book.

During this visit to Wheeling, the leadup to the celebratory occasion ended up getting rather intense when a man placed a call to the overnight disc jockey at the WWVA radio station, Buddy Ray, in the wee hours of the morning. The caller said “Is this Buddy Ray? Saturday night on the Jamboree I am going to kill Dolly Parton.” He immediately hung up.

The shocking moment didn’t end there. A few moments later, he called back, “To show you that I am not kidding, it will be on the second show from the left side.” He apparently then threatened Buddy if he interfered. Buddy, obviously, contacted the authorities. Dolly was set to perform in two days. The police contacted representatives for Dolly to let them know about the threats.

When Dolly arrived in Wheeling Saturday night, she was informed of the threats in person. Dolly was faced with a tough decision, as both shows were sold out. Fearing for what might happen, she made the decision to cancel the shows. “I wasn’t all that shook up about it,” she said. “However, after discussing the threat, the first I’ve received, with my manager, Dan Warden, we decided to call off my performances. I reasoned it just might be a possible danger to me and my band and my audience.”  She reckoned it may have just been a “bad joke.”

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After the show was canceled, another call came through to the WWVA station. “You tell Buddy Ray he saved her life.” This would be the call that got him caught. The police got the telephone company involved and traced the call to the home of one Robert Elliot. He was arrested and later charged. 

Once Dolly safely left Wheeling, her next stop on tour was Louisville. Eventually, plans began to get her back to The Friendly City. Jamboree officials hoped to have her back by the summer. Her booking agent and personal management were “anxious” to have her return to Wheeling as soon as her schedule allowed it. And they did! She was back before the year was out. Fans that came out in that summer likely heard hits such as ‘Jolene,’ ‘I Will Always Love You,’ and ‘Coat of Many Colors.’

What a treat it must have been to be able to see Dolly Parton right here in Wheeling. I can only imagine she put on a stunning show. A real celebration of country music, something our Jamboree has done and continues to do so well. Find out what the Wheeling Jamboree is up to today by following them on Facebook or visit their website

• Makayla Carney, a Wheeling native, is the 2023-2024 AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage, where she will get to write all about the history and culture of her hometown. She has a B.F.A. in Film and Television from DePaul University in Chicago. She adores all kinds of art, a lavender latte, and the occasional performance on the Towngate Theatre stage.


Bethel, Betsy. “W.Va. Music Hall of Fame Honors Wheeling Jamboree | News, Sports, Jobs – The Intelligencer.” Theintelligencer.Net, The Intelligencer, 4 Feb. 2018.

“Dolly Parton – Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.” Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Accessed 16 Jan. 2024.

“Dolly Threats Arrest Made.” The Intelligencer, 1976, page 1.

“Hello, Dolly: ‘Miss No. 1’ on Way to Jamboree.” Sunday News Register, 1976, page 79.

“Parton Case Suspect Release Seen Today.” Wheeling News Register, 1976, page 1, page 3.

“Stars Light Up Jamboree ’73.” The Intelligencer, 1973, page 25.

Wiseman, Mac. The World’s Original WWVA Jamboree History-Picture Book. BasicComunications,Inc., 1969, p. 13.