The story of “I Will Always Love You”, from Dolly Parton to Elvis and Whitney Houston | VIDEO

There is probably no lover who has not hummed, at least once in his life, the hit “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. But hardly anyone knows that the song actually belongs to country singer Dolly Parton, and that this week marks 50 years since it was written. So, on your anniversary, read the emotional story of this song full of sensitivity, but also determination.

Dolly Parton, facebook photo /Dolly Parton

After Dolly Parton posted, on Tuesday, on her account a few lines in which she remembered that 50 years had passed since the release of her song “I Will Always Love You”, it came to light that many of those who love this song have no idea that she is the author, reports the BBC.

“50 years, happy birthday to my song “I Will Always Love You”! It will always hold a special place in my heart, as I hope it does in yours.” wrote Dolly Parton. A fan's response, “i didn't realize it was your song” received the most reactions, a sign that, indeed, there are very few people who know that Whitney Houston is, in fact, performing a cover of the country song composed by Dolly Parton.

How “I Will Always Love You” Was Born

Dolly Parton she left school in 1964 and moved to Nashville in East Tennessee, determined to become a star. At first, she had mediocre success with songs she composed and sang, but managed to attract the attention of singer Bill Phillips, who duetted on her song “Put It Off Until Tomorrow”.

Then country star Porter Wagoner then invited her to be the “singing girl” on his TV show, eventually signing her to his record label and giving her the big break she'd been craving. Dolly Parton's first single on this label, a cover of the song “The Last Thing on My Mind” by Tom Paxton, was a duet with Wagoner. Although the song entered the country top 10 in 1968 and marked the beginning of a formidable musical partnership, it was not what Dolly Parton wanted.

“I had come to Nashville to be a star myself,” she told DJ Howard Stern in 2023. “I really felt like I had to move on. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life just being a singer. I knew my destiny. I knew I had to keep doing what I felt… drawn to do,” she confessed.

In 1973 Dolly Parton made the decision to leave the partnership with Porter Wagoner and start her career on her own. Making up his mind was one thing, breaking the news to Wagoner was another. Then, in a moment of inspiration, in one afternoon he wrote two songs, “Jolene”, a career-defining hit, and “I Will Always Love You”, an ode of sincere gratitude, but at the same time time with a determination of steel.

“I thought, well, what do you do best? You write songs. So I sat down and wrote this song. (…) I sang the song by myself in his office – just me and my guitar”, she told Howard Stern. “Tears rolled down his face from behind the desk. “It's the best song you've ever written,” he told me. “You can leave if I can produce the song,” the country singer recalled.

Later, Marc Lee, who wrote about this song in the “Life of a Song a Financial Times” column, would also declare to the BBC that the song is “an extraordinary blend of silky fragility and burning intensity. It's remarkable because it heralds the painful end of a relationship, while at the same time declaring that there is an emotional connection here that will last forever.”

Elvis wanted this song for himself

After only a year, Parton's two songs had both become number one country singles in the US, and she was beginning to break into the pop audience.

That was when Elvis, who had been listening, called her “I Will Always Love You” and wanted to record a cover. Initially, the singer felt that it was the most wonderful thing that could happen to her as a songwriter: to be asked for a song by none other than Elvis!

ELvis Presley, archive photo

ELvis Presley, archive photo

Unfortunately, their collaboration was not possible, because “The King's” manager, Colonel Tom Parker, contacted Dolly Parton the very night before the recording session and told her that Elvis Presley would not record the song unless he give up half of the copyright.

Although the temptation to collaborate with Elvis was huge, Dolly Parton, in the desire to keep her financial independence, found the strength to refuse, although, as she would tell later, she cried all night. On the other hand, says the artist, Elvis Presley made enough money from all the iterations of the song combined to afford much more than the famous Graceland property.

How 'I Will Always Love You' ended up on 'The Bodyguard' soundtrack

In 1975, shortly after Dolly Parton initially released “I Will Always Love You”, Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay for “The Bodyguard”, a love story in which a former Secret Service agent falls in love with the pop star he was hired to protect.

It took 17 years before Kevin Costner and real-life pop megastar Whitney Houston brought the story to the big screen in 1992 with “I Will Always Love You” on the soundtrack.

According to Stereogum's “The Number Ones” column, it was Kevin Costner who suggested Whitney Houston sing a country song. Thus, a tape of potential songs was made, including Linda Ronstadt's 1975 take on Dolly Parton's humble ballad. Producer David Foster particularly liked the song and turned it into a melancholic tour de force.

Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard", archive photo

Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in “The Bodyguard”, archive photo

“Parton's recording has an understated purity and authenticity that is irresistible. Houston's version is just as emotional, but on a much different scale.” Marc Lee told the BBC.

The a cappella opening, again included at Kevin Costner's suggestion to better fit the film, builds to Whitney Houston's lung-exploding verse and final note. “She transforms what Dolly described as 'a simple song about everything and nothing' into a monumental ballad that brings together all the energy of a plane taking off.” says Marc Lee.

The song earned Dolly Parton over $10 million

Dolly Parton said that she unexpectedly heard the cover while driving home in her Cadillac and was so overwhelmed that she had to pull over because “almost destroyed” car.

“I was like a dog hearing a whistle… It sounded like a bell… I couldn't believe my sad little country song could be made like that. (…) It was one of the greatest experiences I've had in my entire life” – she said.

Whitney Houston's version became a huge hit worldwide, spending 10 weeks at number one in the UK, where it was the best-selling single of the year, and 14 weeks at number one on the US Billboard charts. It proved so successful that it eventually won Record of the Year at the 1994 Grammy Awards.

With global sales of more than 20 million copies, the song reportedly earned Dolly Parton more than $10 million (£7 million) in royalties from Whitney Houston's cover alone in the 1990s.

He spent part of the money in tribute to Whitney Houston

In 2021, Dolly Parton told chat show host Andy Cohen that she invested some of the money in a black neighborhood in Nashville as a tribute to Houston, who died at age 48 in 2012.

“It was mostly just black families and people living around,” Parton said. “It was a whole shopping center. And I thought, 'This is the perfect place for me, considering I was doing it for Whitney.'” added the artist.

The magic of this play continues to this day, as evidenced by the fact that a theater performance of “The Bodyguard” was interrupted last year due to an audience member singing too loudly.