Two of the inarguably most successful singers in American history are Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston. Many know Parton by her signature songs “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” Many know Houston by her most signature song, “I Will Always Love You” — which, as some may not know, is a cover of the song originally written and covered by Parton herself.
But not many knew how Parton dealt with the fact that one of her songs became someone else’s signature. Until now.
Appearing on Watch What Happens Live last night, led by out host Andy Cohen, Parton took a series of questions from both the host and a few lucky fans.
Cohen asked her several questions about the vital topics first — how many wigs she owns, if she wears high heels to the store, what she watches on TV — but then he asked Parton, “What is the best thing that you bought or invested in — with money from your ‘I Will Always Love You’ royalties?”
Parton first wrote the song “I Will Always Love You” and recorded it in 1973, releasing it both as a single and on her thirteenth album, Jolene. It hit number one then, and Parton would re-record and re-release it several times, before and after Houston became known for it.
While both artists enjoyed success from the song, Houston’s version, which was for the soundtrack to the film The Bodyguard, became one of the best-selling songs of all time. It’s also widely ranked as one of the best singles, and best songs ever recorded, of all time.
As the sole songwriter of the original, though, Parton is entitled to royalty payments from every copy sold of any version of the song. She reportedly banked $10 million from the royalties for Houston’s cover alone in the 1990s, in addition to her version and her own vast catalogue of music.
First, “I bought my big office complex down in Nashville. I bought a property down in what was the Black area of town, and it was mostly just Black families and people that lived around there, and it was off the beaten path from 16th Avenue,” Parton explained.
“I thought, ‘Well, I am going to buy this place — the whole strip mall’ — and thought, ‘This is the perfect place for me to be,’ considering it was [thanks to] Whitney, so I just thought this was great, I’m just going to be down here with her people, who are my people as well!”
Parton’s complex, and the neighborhood, remains today.
“I just love the fact that I spent that money on a complex. And I think, ‘this is the house that Whitney built.'”
— WWHL (@BravoWWHL) July 30, 2021
Houston claimed in a 2000 interview with Out that she was not gay or bisexual, but rumors swirled for years before she passed in 2012. It became an open secret among those in Hollywood or anyone in Houston’s circle that she was attracted to women, more specifically friend and confidant Robyn Crawford.
In her memoir after Houston’s death, Crawford shared publicly for the first time that the two had a relationship, confirming that Houston was indeed attracted to women. Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown also confirmed that she was bisexual.
While Parton has long avoided getting political, she is a longstanding ally of the LGBTQ community and often engages in advocacy for other progressive issues like education, reading programs, and civil rights. She also donated $1 million to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center to support coronavirus vaccine research last year, which directly supported the development of the Moderna vaccine.
In the Live after show, Parton took questions directly from fans, first from Ian and Kevin from Atlanta.
“Thank you, Dolly, for your contribution to beat COVID,” Ian said, to applause from the in-studio audience, “we appreciate that, and all your support to the gay community.”
Parton responded, “Thank you so much – what’s your dog’s name?” she asks as their dog, Hamilton, barks loudly in the background.
They ask, “Were there ever plans to perform ‘I Will Always Love You’ with Whitney and it never happened?”
“No,” Parton said, “No, I never was asked to perform that with Whitney.”
She did add, “I wish that could’ve happened, I would have loved that, but I don’t think I could have come up to snuff with her though. She would’ve outsung me on that one for sure!”
"I would've loved that, but I don't think I could come up to snuff with her though. She would've outsung me on that one for sure." pic.twitter.com/4ReL6humhD
— WWHL (@BravoWWHL) July 30, 2021
In the rare sit-down, the legendary singer-songwriter also shared details about shows she’s quietly produced, her thoughts on who should play her in a movie about her life story, and her planned appearance in the upcoming final season of the hit show Grace & Frankie.