The Complete History of ‘I Will Always Love You’

One big song, two mythic women

Bernard O'Leary


This originally appeared in This Week In The 90s, a weekly email about the UK top 40 as it stood thirty years ago.

This week, we’re looking at November 29,1992, and…

This week’s Number One: ‘I Will Always Love You’ — Whitney Houston

If I should stay

If you were a Country fan in the 1960s — and if you owned a TV — your weekly schedule revolved around The Porter Wagoner Show.

Porter Wagoner was a country legend, known to fans as Mr Grand Ole Opry. His weekly half-hour broadcast offered country, gospel, comedy, and star guests, all supported by Wagoner’s loyal musical ensemble.

The most beloved member of that ensemble was singer Norma Jean Beasler, who had been part of the show from the start. But Norma Jean decided to get married and settle down, which meant that Wagoner needed a replacement.

On September 5th, 1969, Porter introduced the newest member of the team: “pretty little miss Dolly Parton.”

The audience hated her.

Norma Jean had been a gentle girl-next-door type, and suddenly here was brash, brassy Dolly, all cheeky smiles, with a mountain of platinum blonde hair and a voice so loud it rattled the bleachers.

In her autobiography, Dolly said that her first weeks as a Wagonerette were hell. Crowds would boo her and call for Norma Jean, and Porter himself had to beg them to give her a chance.

They warmed to her, eventually, and Dolly became the breakout star. By 1972, she had outgrown the ensemble. Although she owed her career to Wagoner so much, it was time to say goodbye.

Leaving the nest is always bittersweet. Parton was at the peak of her songwriting powers, so she channelled that emotion into a ballad, writing about how hard it was to leave, and how grateful she…



Bernard O'Leary

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