Dolly Parton's recent appearance on Watch What Happens Live was, naturally, illuminating. The country legend discussed her upcoming cameo on Netflix's Grace & Frankie and revealed, for the first time, a duet with Reba McEntire. The pair recently recorded a new version of McEntire's 1993 hit "Does He Love You!" And while the professional projects are certainly exciting, fans are just as curious about Parton's more personal ventures.
Speaking candidly with host Andy Cohen, Parton detailed a special way that she spent the royalties off "I Will Always Love You." In a predominantly Black neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee she purchased "a whole strip mall" for her office complex. Parton said that in this way, "This is the house that Whitney built," referring to the late Whitney Houston. The revelation is now trending on social media.
"I Will Always Love You"
Parton's "I Will Always Love You" has a long and uniquely cross-genre history. The country singer-songwriter originally released the single in 1974 as an official farewell to her former business partner Porter Wagoner. After the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs, the aging Elvis Presley asked to do his own cover.
But when Presley's manager, the infamous Colonel, told Parton to sign over half of the publishing rights she turned him down cold! "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I mean, hell, I'd give him all of it.' I said, 'I can't do that.' Something in my heart says, 'Don't do that.' And I just didn't do it," she told Country Music Television in 2006.
Of course, Parton is a businesswoman. And she made the right call. In 1992, she allowed for the talented Whitney Houston to record a new arrangement for her hit Hollywood debut: The Bodyguard. The rest is musical history. Houston's song earned two Grammys and international acclaim. As Parton put it, reflecting on rejecting Presley's offer: "When Whitney [Houston's version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland." Specifically, she made $10 million off Houston's cover according to Yahoo Finance. And now we know how Parton used all those royalties!
On 'Watch What Happens Live'
Speaking to Cohen on his late night talk show, Parton told the full story of how she used those fat "I Will Always Love You" earnings. She said that when choosing the location of her office complex, it was important to her that she built in a black community. She explained:
"I thought, 'Well, this is a wonderful place to be.' 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. It was just off the beaten path from 16th Avenue and I thought, 'Well, I am gonna buy this place -- the whole strip mall,'" she told Cohen, before adding: "And I thought, 'This is the perfect place for me to be,' considering it was Whitney. I thought this was great -- I'm just gonna be down here with her people, who are my people as well. So, I just love the fact that I spent that money on a complex and I think, 'This is the house that Whitney built.'"
The choice signifies the respect that Parton had for her fellow superstar. Despite tabloid rumors of an ongoing feud, Houston told Rolling Stone in 1993: "I think Dolly Parton is a hell of a writer and a hell of a singer. I was concerned when I sang her song how she'd feel about it, in terms of the arrangement, my licks, my flavor. When she said she was floored, that meant so much to me."
The fact that Dolly Parton used royalties to build in a Black neighborhood also demonstrates her genuine appreciation of Black life and culture. Last year, during protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder, Parton made headlines when she said "Of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!" She calls it like she sees it.
Watch the rest of Parton's sweet interview with Cohen above. And note her tips for staying positive! Even in these trying times.