The Story of... 'I Will Always Love You' by Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston

14 March 2024, 11:08

Whitney Houston famously covered Dolly Parton's country love song
Whitney Houston famously covered Dolly Parton's country love song. Picture: Arista/YouTube/Dolly Parton

By Tom Eames

'I Will Always Love You' will forever be known as one of the all-time great power ballads and movie songs.

Whitney Houston made the Dolly Parton love song her own in 1992, but did you know its fascinating history?

Who was the song written about? How did Whitney end up singing the song? Just how huge was the single's sales?

Here's all you need to know about the classic:

  1. Who wrote 'I Will Always Love You'?

    Dolly Parton - I Will Always Love You (Live)

    Country legend Dolly Parton wrote the song in 1973, for her one-time partner and mentor Porter Wagoner, from whom she was separating professionally after seven years.

    She included it on her 1974 album Jolene.

    Not only that, but she wrote the song in the same day as 'Jolene'!

    Dolly Parton interview: Making 'Let It Be' with Paul McCartney and 'Wrecking Ball' with Miley Cyrus

  2. What inspired the song?

    Dolly & Porter
    Dolly & Porter. Picture: Getty

    It is not a conventional love song. In 1967, Dolly was invited by country star Porter Wagoner to co-host his TV show, where they became famous for their duets.

    However, her huge talent soon eclipsed that of her mentor, and she moved on to bigger things. She wrote the song for him to show her appreciation for their time together.

    Wagoner thought Dolly leaving was a mistake and that she had been disloyal. She played the song to him the morning after she wrote it, as her way of letting him know she had made her decision, and to show just how she felt about him.

    Dolly later said that Wagoner was in tears when she finished, and he called it "the prettiest song I ever heard."

    "I wrote that song to say, 'Here's how I feel. I will always love you, but I have to go.'"

  3. Elvis Presley wanted to cover it, but Dolly turned him down

    Dolly Parton on Elvis recording 'I Will Always Love You'

    Dolly was interested in Elvis' cover, but his people insisted that he be given a share of the publishing rights if he recorded it, which was a common demand at the time.

    However, Dolly held firm. This proved to be the right decision, considering how popular it was to become in the future.

    She told Mojo in 2004: "My songs were what I was leaving for my family and I wouldn't give them up. People said I was stupid. I cried all night.

    "I would have killed to hear him sing it. But, eventually, when Whitney recorded it, I was glad I held out."

  4. Whitney's cover was Kevin Costner's idea

    The Bodyguard
    The Bodyguard. Picture: Warner Bros

    In 1992, Whitney Houston recorded a new arrangement of the song, for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, her film debut.

    She was originally going to record a cover of Jimmy Ruffin's 'What Becomes of the Brokenhearted' as the lead single, but when it was discovered that it was to be used for Fried Green Tomatoes, Whitney requested a different song.

    It was her co-star Kevin Costner who suggested 'I Will Always Love You', playing her Linda Ronstadt's 1975 version.

    "I Will Always Love You" Linda Ronstadt

  5. Dolly helped with the cover

    When Dolly heard that Whitney was using Linda Ronstadt's recording as a template, she called producer David Foster to give him the final verse.

    This verse was missing from the Ronstadt version, as she felt it was highly important to the song.

  6. The record company weren't fond of the a cappella intro

    Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You (Official 4K Video)

    Clive Davis, the Arista Records boss who acted as Whitney's mentor throughout her career, was puzzled by the song choice, particularly the a cappella introduction, but Whitney and Kevin stuck to their guns.

    Kevin explained: "I said, 'This is a very important song in this movie. I didn't care if it was ever on the radio. I didn't care.

    "I said, 'We're also going to do this a cappella at the beginning. I need it to be a cappella because it shows a measure of how much she digs this guy - that she sings without music.'"

  7. There were rumours that Dolly and Whitney fell out over the song

    After Whitney's version was a hit in 1992, tabloid press stories began claiming a feud between the two singers, apparently due to Dolly allegedly ignoring an agreement that she would not perform the song for several months while Whitney's version was in the charts.

    However, they both dismissed the rumours, speaking positively about each other in interviews.

    Dolly said: "The way she took that simple song of mine and made it such a mighty thing, it almost became her song.

    "Some writers say, 'Ooh, I hate the way they've done that to my song or that version wasn't what I had in mind.' I just think it's wonderful that people can take a song and do it so many different ways."

  8. It was a humongous hit

    Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You (World Music Awards 1994 HQ)

    The song was number one in the UK for 10 weeks, and 14 weeks in the US.

    It was the best-selling single in the UK for 1992, and 1993 in the US.

    It remains one of the top 5 best-selling singles of all time worldwide, with sales of over 20 million copies.

    Among its many accolades, the song won two Grammys in 1994 for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. However, it did not win an Oscar, and the prize only goes to original songs.

  9. Who else has covered it?

    Christina Aguilera - I Will Always Love You (Video Live)

    Pop Idol finalist Rik Waller took the song back to the UK top 10 in 2002.

    Since Whitney's death in 2012, there have been various tributes using the song, from the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé.

    Dolly recorded it again as a dhuet with Vince Gill in 1995

    Other covers include: