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Dolly Parton: music, identity and culture

You’ll explore the relationship between music, identity, and culture through the work of country musician and songwriter Dolly Parton. You’ll learn about Parton’s appeal to different audiences, her paradoxical artistic persona and the connections between her music and music by other artists. The course situates Parton’s music in relation to country music, examining the genre’s associations with place, race and gender. You'll be introduced to the key concepts and terminology relevant to studying music. The course will help you to develop your analytical listening skills by engaging with a range of music examples.

Standalone study only

This module is available for standalone study only. Any credits from this module cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.


Module code




Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This six-week course is structured around the following key themes:

Week 1: ‘Coat of Many Colors’: defining Dolly Parton
The first week introduces Dolly Parton’s life, career and music. You'll begin to explore Parton’s relationship to musical authenticity, gender, and poor, white communities in the Southern United States. This week’s study will also introduce you to some of the ways that music can construct, express, and represent identity. As you'll discover, Parton’s relationship to identity has sometimes appeared ‘paradoxical’. This is part of what makes Parton and her work such a fascinating topic of study.

Week 2: Country music and the US South
Dolly Parton’s ‘Southern’ identity is part of what makes her recognisable as a country musician. You'll examine country music’s historical connection with the U.S. South. By listening to examples of country music from different historical periods, you'll learn how country music has been framed as a distinctly Southern music genre by record companies, academics and musicians. You’ll also consider the limits of claiming country for the South by learning about its connections to places, music and people from outside the region.

Week 3: When country goes pop
You’ll explore the idea of musical crossover and how some recordings seem to address more than one kind of audience simultaneously. You'll examine Parton as not only a country musician but also a pop musician with widespread appeal. You'll also discover how sounds, lyrics and sentiment can convey a sense of musical style, and how musical style is bound up with other aspects of social life.

Week 4: Performing gender and sexuality
Instantly recognisable by her tiny waist, large breasts and elaborate blonde wigs, Parton is as well-known for her extravagant, feminine image as she is for her singing voice. This week you'll explore Parton’s performance of gender and sexuality through her music, image and reception. You’ll consider different interpretations of her gender identity, including as a ‘real fake woman’, an astute businesswoman and an LGBTQ+ ally.

Week 5: Country music, work and leisure
Beginning with Parton’s hit song ‘9 to 5’, this week examines the relationship between country music, work and leisure. You'll explore work as a central theme in country music songs, country music as a leisure activity, and country music as an industry reliant on work. With reference to Parton’s theme park Dollywood, you'll also examine music tourism as an important segment of the leisure industry.

Week 6: Cover versions, interpolation and the musical colour line
In this final week, you’ll focus on two songs that take different approaches to reproducing aspects of Parton’s music – Whitney Houston’s I will always love you, and Pras’ Ghetto Supastar (that is what you are). You'll identify musical similarities and differences between Parton’s music and these songs. This week also interrogates the musical ‘colour line’ constructed by the recording industry, and the historical relationship between race and popular music.

You will learn

By the end of this course, you should gain the following learning outcomes.

Knowledge and understanding

You should be able to:

  • demonstrate an awareness of how music can be understood within different social and cultural contexts
  • understand some aspects of the complex relationship between music and identity
  • explain what distinguishes country music as a genre.

Cognitive skills

You should gain an ability to:

  • understand and use key concepts and terms when discussing country music  
  • use examples, illustrations and case studies when assessing an argument
  • reflect on your standpoint and the standpoint of others with respect to the content discussed in the course.

Key skills

You should gain an ability to:

  • communicate effectively within an online learning environment   
  • use peer feedback and self-reflection to develop and direct your learning.  

Practical and professional skills

You should develop an:

  • ability to plan, study and manage a sequence of work that meets a deadline
  • understanding of future study opportunities.

Vocational relevance

This course helps you to develop transferrable skills including communicating clearly through writing, self-reflection, time management and engaging in discussion forums.

Learner support

Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a Study Advisor, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, StudentHome website and computing helpdesk.

If you have a disability

The course is delivered online/onscreen and the material is visually rich, using video and audio. Descriptions of visual elements (including transcripts) will be provided where appropriate. There are no alternatives that fully replace aural experience. However, relevant details about musical materials will generally be described wherever possible as part of the activity discussions. Students with hearing or visual impairment may find an external study helper useful in order to achieve some learning outcomes.

Outside the UK

There are no restrictions to studying this course; however, if you are studying outside the UK, you may be unable to access some of the audio/video materials on third-party websites. 

Teaching and assessment


There's no formal assessment, although there will be three ‘review and reflect’ points built into the course which you'll use to reflect on your understanding.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations, which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Entry requirements

There are no entry requirements for this course.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact us.

Course length

You’ll study for around 8 hours per week for 6 weeks. In total this course will require around 50 hours to complete.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Nov 2024 £125.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2026.

Ways to pay

Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron.

Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

The fee information provided here is valid for short courses starting in the 2024/25 academic year. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

All learning materials are delivered entirely online. You’ll have access to a course website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific materials and activities
  • audio and video content
  • discussion forums.

You will need

While it is possible to rely only on laptop speakers, some means of listening to audio in reasonably good quality is preferable, such as through an amplifier and loudspeakers or a pair of headphones.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS Ventura or higher.

Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.