Arts and Entertainment
Dolly Parton invested Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ cover royalties in Black community
Dolly Parton, 75, broke into song while getting her coronavirus vaccine and adapted one of her best-known ballads in March 2021. (Yui Mok/EMPPL PA Wire/AP)
ByKim Bellware
July 31, 2021 at 6:01 p.m. EDT
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In a catalogue that runs deep with hits, “I Will Always Love You” stands as one of Dolly Parton’s most successful songwriting credits, a tune that became a global phenomenon when it was covered by Whitney Houston for the 1992 film “The Bodyguard.”
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Parton, who is estimated to have earned millions of dollars in royalties for writing the song in 1973, revealed this week how she spent her money from the songwriting credit for Houston, who died in 2012: She invested in a building located in a historically Black Nashville neighborhood.
“I bought my big office complex down in Nashville, and so I thought, ‘Well, this is a wonderful place to be,’ ” Parton saidThursday during a wide-ranging interview on Bravo’s “
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Cohen had peppered Parton with lighthearted questions about her wig collection — Parton’s estimated inventory is 365 hairpieces — and the secret to her positive outlook on life. When Cohen tossed off a query about what was the best purchase she made using the royalties from the hit song, she spoke of a Nashville neighborhood then called Sevier Park, home to predominantly Black families and businesses.
“It was a whole strip mall, and I thought this is the perfect place for me to be, considering it was Whitney, so I just thought, ‘This is great, I’m just going to be down here with her people, who are my people as well,’ ” Parton said.
She added, “I love the fact that I spent that money on a complex and I think, ‘This is the house that Whitney built.’ ”
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Representatives for Parton did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Fueling Parton’s investment was the significant payday she earned from the success of Houston’s cover. Parton earned at least $10 million from it in the 1990s, Forbes estimated last year.
The song had already been a hit — albeit a more modest one — when Parton wrote it in 1973 as a B side to the album “Jolene.” Parton’s version was a country music success, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s country charts twice — the first in 1974 and again in 1982 when she rerecorded a version for the soundtrack to “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
But it wasn’t until 1992, when Houston recorded her version of the song as the main musical set piece for “The Bodyguard” that the song reached new heights.
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Houston’s version became Billboard’s chart-topper for 14 weeks and helped “The Bodyguard” soundtrack win Album of the Year at the 1993 Grammy Awards. The album was the best-selling film soundtrack of all time as of 2019, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
‘Dolly Parton, Songteller’ is a gold mine of little-seen photos and personal anecdotes
Despite the song’s massive success, it almost wasn’t a part of the film. Kevin Costner, Houston’s co-star and a producer on “The Bodyguard,” wanted to use the ’60s Motown soul hit “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” according to a 2017 BuzzFeed News profile of the album on its 25th anniversary. When a cover of the Jimmy Ruffin song ended up on the 1991 soundtrack for “Fried Green Tomatoes,” music supervisor Maureen Crowe instead suggested Linda Ronstadt’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”
“It had ‘Whitney’ all over it,” music producer David Foster told BuzzFeed.
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Parton agreed. The first time she heard Houston’s version of her song, she had to pull over to avoid crashing her car because she was so overwhelmed.
“I was shot so full of adrenaline and energy, I had to pull off, because I was afraid that I would wreck, so I pulled over quick as I could to listen to that whole song,” Parton told Oprah Winfrey in a 2020 interview. “I could not believe how she did that. I mean, how beautiful it was that my little song had turned into that, so that was a major, major thing.”
Parton purchased the 6,317-square-foot Mission-style complex in Nashville in February 1997, according to property records. David Ewing, a longtime Nashville historian, told The Washington Post that Parton’s investment came when many recording artists did not look toward the Sevier Park neighborhood, now known as 12 South, to set up their businesses.
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“We’re just hearing now, because of the Black Lives Matter movement, how down for the cause Dolly has always been — even when others in the music industry weren’t,” Ewing said. “Dolly Parton could have built and bought any piece of property in Nashville. But you would have to have gone out of your way to buy in the 12 South neighborhood, because no Realtor would have shown Dolly that lot to buy.”
At the time, the neighborhood was “African American funeral homes, businesses and churches,” Ewing said. Now, 12 South is one of the hottest neighborhoods in Nashville, he said.
“But it really kind of all began to be put on the map when Dolly quietly invested in the area,” Ewing said.
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Ewing noted that Parton’s investment in a Black neighborhood is consistent with the beloved star’s track record. In the past year, Parton has made headlines for investing $1 million to develop Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine and coming out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“She’s never cared about race or gender or the other things people in the South have judged or restricted others about,” Ewing said. “The fact that Dolly would buy in what was a Black neighborhood was a very Dolly thing to do.”
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Kim Bellware covers national and breaking news for The Washington Post. She previously worked for City Bureau, The Huffington Post and as a nationally-focused freelance reporter.
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