Dolly Parton’s Elvis Presley dilemma

Despite early hints at stardom in 1960s Tennessee, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Dolly Parton hit the peak of her success with a distinct transition to more pop-oriented chart-worthy music. By 1978, Parton was widely hailed as the Queen of country music, with many comparing her to the recently deceased King of rock’ n’ roll, Elvis Presley.

In a 1978 interview with Playboy Magazine, Parton discussed the parallels drawn between herself and Elvis. She explained that, while she sadly never had the chance to meet Elvis, “There was nobody that [she] ever related to more. I always felt that we were kin.”

“He was very loving, very emotional, very sensitive, very giving, very humble, thankful, grateful,” she added. “I always felt that he was totally in awe of his own success and he didn’t quite understand why he had been so chosen and why he was such an idol.”

Later, Parton identified a connection on a religious and spiritual level. “How he felt about God and religion was always somethin’ I related to a lot, because I know he was brought up with his mother in the Assembly of God,” she said. “It was a real free-spirited, shoutin’ church. I watched and heard how he reacted to gospel music and how he loved that the best of all and how he almost seemed to feel he had a callin’ to do somethin’ different and maybe more spiritual than what he actually was doin’, but you know, he never got a chance to try.”

In the latter days of Elvis’ career, he became one of Parton’s devoted fans and even expressed wishes to cover her 1974 hit ‘I Will Always Love You’. Initially, Parton was ecstatic and had even arranged to join Elvis in the studio. “So I was so excited, I told everybody,” Parton revealed on the Living and Learning with Reba McEntire podcast. “They had [told] me that Elvis was recording it and [asked] if I wanted to come to the studio. Elvis wanted to meet me and all that.”

Sadly, before they arranged to meet for the session, the label informed Parton that Elvis would want half of the publishing deal. She subsequently turned the offer down to maintain artistic integrity but admitted that the decision didn’t come without regret.

“I cried all night,” she said. “Oh, I just pictured Elvis, like, singing it. And I know that Elvis loved it … but it’s true. I said no.”

“It wasn’t about me saying no to Elvis,” Parton told Billboard of the tricky decision in 2020. “That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do ’cause I loved Elvis, and it wasn’t about him. It was about that song had already, that was my number one copyright ’cause I had a number one record on it.”

“It was only when he asked for half the portion on a song that was my most important copyright at the time, and I said, ‘I can’t give you that,’” she added. “Some people say it was a dumb idea, but I say it’s not. ’Cause, it wasn’t about that. These are just me protecting my things,” she said.

Despite her initial hesitation, Parton seems to have found peace in knowing she made the best call. Whitney Houston later covered the classic hit for the 1992 film, The Bodyguard, in which she starred opposite Kevin Costner. After spending 14 weeks at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100, ‘I Will Always Love You’ became Houston’s signature track.

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