Dolly Parton wrote this and did the original version
in 1974, which went to #1 on the Country chart that year. She recorded another version for the 1982 movie The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas
, which also hit #1 on the Country chart. She wrote the song after the breakup of the musical partnership she had with country singer Porter Wagoner. They were never romantically involved.
The lyrics are sad in the sense that the singer will always love the person she is singing to, yet she knows they are not right for each other and must let him go. It is often misinterpreted as a song about people who will be together forever, and even gets played at some weddings.
This was featured in the movie The Bodyguard
, which Houston starred in with Kevin Costner. Houston played a famous singer and Costner her bodyguard. Of course, they fall in love. Costner picked it for the movie.
Whitney originally intended to cover Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
" as the lead single from The Bodyguard
. However, after she found out the song had been used just one year earlier in the 1991 film Fried Green Tomatoes
, Costner suggested she record Dolly Parton's country hit instead. Houston loved the choice but Clive Davis, the Arista Records boss who acted as mentor for the singer throughout her career, was puzzled by the selection. Costner, who also produced the film, knew it would be perfect for the picture and stuck to his guns. "I said, 'This is a very important song in this movie,'" he recalled to CMT. "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.'"
Parton's original version was a country ballad. Houston's recording had more lavish production and became a pop, soul, and adult contemporary hit. The tremendous crossover appeal meant that radio stations of many different formats played the song, giving it a huge audience. It ended up being a groundbreaker, but it was a big risk, as there wasn't much crossover between the country and R&B audiences. "Truth be told, the musical side of her camp was very unsure about this little country song," recalled Kevin Costner.
While she was crushing the convention that a soul singer shouldn't do country, Houston also proved that her fans would accept her in an on-screen interracial romance, which she had with Costner in the movie. In the film, the race issue wasn't mentioned.
This stayed at #1 US for 14 weeks, a record at the time. In 1995, this record was broken by "One Sweet Day
" by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, which held the top spot for 16 weeks. "I Will Always Love You" does hold the record for the most weeks at #1 for a song that first appeared on a soundtrack.
For a time, this was second only to "We Are The World" as the biggest-selling single ever. It was bumped to #3 n 1997, when Elton John's new version of "Candle In The Wind
" became the biggest.
Houston performed this at the Grammys in 1993. It won for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The song also won the 1992 Soul Train Music Award for R&B Song of the Year.
It did not, however, win an Oscar, since it was not eligible for the Best Original Song award. That award can only go to songs that are written specifically for a film.
According to Kevin Costner, he really wanted Whitney Houston to star in The Bodyguard with him, so much so that he postponed shooting for a year until she was available. Costner was one of the few people in Hollywood who could convince a movie studio to do this; he had lots of sway after his movie Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1991.
The Bodyguard is the best-selling soundtrack of all time.
In 2002, while the US was preparing to go to war with Iraq, Saddam Hussein ran TV and radio ads using this song as he prepared to be re-elected. Houston's record label filed a complaint with the Iraqi mission to the United Nations.
Elvis Presley wanted to record this song but demanded half the publishing rights. Dolly Parton refused and was vindicated when years later Whitney Houston's version earned her $6 million. Parton commented to Observer Music Monthly April 2008: "'I think stories like that are the reason why younger female artists say I've influenced them."
In an interview with UK music magazine Q, Dolly Parton said she "was blown away" by Whitney's version. She 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."
David Foster produced this song. When the decision was made to record it for the movie, Foster went to a record store and bought the Linda Ronstadt version so Whitney could learn the song. When he called Dolly Parton to let her know they were using her song, Dolly told him something very important: the Ronstadt version leaves out the last verse ("I wish you joy and happiness..."), which changes the tone of the song. Parton gave him the lyrics and Whitney recorded the full version. Foster had to tell the film's director, Mick Jackson, that he needed an extra 40 seconds of screen time, as it had been placed in the film minus the last verse.
Foster, who has produced Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and Michael Bublé, called it "The love song of the century."
The song returned to the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart following Houston's death. Its comeback was fueled by an enormous resurgence in digital sales in the week after her passing of 195,000, an increase of 6723%, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The song was performed by Amber Riley on the "Heart" episode of Glee. The tape of the show was delivered to the Fox network the day before the untimely death of Whitney and broadcast four days after her passing. Riley's character Mercedes sings the ballad as part of a plot line revolving around her indecision over two romantic interests.
When this reached #3 in the Hot 100 in 2011, it became the fifth song to become a top 10 hit in two different chart runs. So, what were the other four? They were:
" by Chubby Checker - #1 in 1960 and #1 in 1962.
" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Cryptkickers - #1 in 1962 and #10 in 1973.
"Stand By Me
" by Ben E. King - #4 in 1961 and #9 in 1986.
" by Queen - #9 in 1976 #2 in 1992.
After Houston died on February 11, 2012, "I Will Always Love You" was used in many tributes to the singer, as it was her best-known song. The night after Houston's death, Jennifer Hudson sang a moving rendition in honor of Houston at the Grammy Awards ceremony.
Dolly Parton was driving the first time she heard Houston's rendition of her song. "I turned the radio on, and all of a sudden I heard that a cappella part," she said at a 2017 press conference. "I knew it was something familiar. And then by the time it dawned on me what I was hearing, when Whitney went into the chorus, I had to stop the car because I almost wrecked it. I thought my heart was gonna just bust right out of my body."
Two years after this song stormed the charts, producer David Foster took another another #1 Country hit to the top of the Hot 100 with "I Swear
." That song was a country chart-topper for John Michael Montgomery in 1994; Foster produced a version by the vocal group All-4-One that stayed at #1 on the Hot 100 for 11 weeks later that same year.
Many listeners don't know this is a cover song, and that's OK with Dolly Parton. She told the Today show: "A lot of people say that's Whitney's song, and I always say, 'That's fine, she can have the credit. I just want my cash.'"
This was one of the inductees in 2020 into the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry. Each year, the National Recording Registry selects 25 titles deemed "worthy of preservation because of their cultural, historical, and aesthetic importance" to the American soundscape.