I Will Always Love YouSong History

The making of a pop and country classic

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Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You. WireImage / Getty Images

Before it became a record-breaking single for Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You" was a country hit for Dolly Parton, who also wrote the tune.

Who It's About

"I Will Always Love You" is about the breakup of the singing partnership between Parton and longtime mentor Porter Wagoner. The pair performed together on Wagoner's television show starting in the late 1960s. They released several duet albums together before they parted ways.

"You get in these love-hate relationships with people that you work with," Parton told TV Guide reporter Mary Murphy in 1993. "Porter and I were very competitive and passionate. Then you'd get all jealous, too. And I am not ashamed of feeling this way. But finally, it was just breaking my heart because I thought, well, I'm going. He won't listen. There's nothing I can say that will make it easier. So I just sat down and wrote this song."

"I Will Always Love You" appeared on Dolly's album Jolene in 1974.

"I Will Always Love You" was recorded by Dolly Parton on June 13, 1973. It was released as a single on June 6, 1974. Parton reportedly wrote the tune the same day she wrote "Jolene." The song reached #1 on the country music charts.

The Song's Meaning

While the song's origins may be specific to Dolly Parton, its sentiment remains universal. The woman in the song knows a relationship is over, but still values the time she spent with the person she is leaving. She still wants the best for him. These bittersweet qualities helped turn "I Will Always Love You" into a #1 hit, and it has often been listed among the best country love songs.

Dolly's Second Version of "I Will Always Love You"

In 1982, "I Will Always Love You" was re-recorded for the soundtrack of the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; Parton played brothel owner Mona Stangley. The song was again released as a single and once more topped the charts.

Doing so, Parton became ​the first singer to have a #1 hit with two different recordings of the same song.

Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You"

Whitney Houston's iconic version of the Dolly Parton song was almost never recorded. "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" was originally set for the finale of The Bodyguard. But when the producers of the film discovered the song was set to be used for Fried Green Tomatoes, they had to find a replacement. Co-star Kevin Costner brought "I Will Always Love You" to Houston's attention. 

The tune was an unparalleled success, spending 14 weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop charts. It was also extremely popular internationally, reaching #1 in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland, among other nations. It went on to sell over four million copies, making the song the second best-selling single of all time. At the 1994 Grammy Awards, "I Will Always Love You" won Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

The Elvis Connection

Elvis Presley nearly recorded "I Will Always Love You," but Dolly's foresight prevented it from happening. According to Parton, Elvis's manager Colonel Tom Parker demanded half of the publishing rights and she wouldn't give them up.

"I thought, 'Oh, no, that's already been a hit and that's what I'm leaving for my family.' It had nothing to do with Elvis because hopefully he was disappointed too," Parton told Oprah Winfrey in 2010. "But I just wouldn't let him have the publishing."

It turned out to be a wise financial decision: Houston's mega-seller reaped the country singer millions.

Dolly's Response to Whitney Houston's Death

"I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did on my song," Parton told Billboard magazine after Houston's death on February 11, 2012, "and I can truly say from the bottom of my heart, 'Whitney, I will always love you. You will be missed.'"

Other Artist Renditions of "I Will Always Love You"

  • Linda Ronstadt (Prisoner in Disguise, 1975)
  • Vince Gill and Dolly Parton (Souvenirs, 1995)
  • John Doe
  • Sarah Washington
  • Roger Whittaker