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Whitney Houston’s Version of “I Will Always Love You” is a Classic Spanning Almost Three Decades

The year of 1992 was a memorable and prosperous time for the late singer Whitney Houston. She starred in the romantic thriller film, “The Bodyguard” alongside actor Kevin Costner, and its soundtrack is ranked as one of the best soundtracks of all time. The majority of the songs featured are sung by Houston, and more than one exemplifies her artistic rigor. But none has sustained as much of a legacy as her version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”

Houston’s rendition reached 1 billion views on YouTube in late October 2020, ranking as the first solo track and fourth song from the 1990s to reach 1 billion YouTube views. Since then, the number continues to climb well into 2021. If that doesn’t accurately account for its significance after almost three decades, then it would be difficult to point to what would.

The song spent 14 weeks in the No. 1 slot of the Billboard Hot 100 Charts upon its initial release. It is one of the best-selling singles of all time, captivating the ears of all who listen. Houston took home two Grammy Awards for the song, along with a third Grammy for the entire Bodyguard album in 1994. As the song received critical acclaim during the ‘90s, it still carries on as the signature piece in her repertoire. Even after her untimely passing in 2012, Houston’s impact does not go unnoticed. The ballad re-entered the charts after digital sales surged. When one experiences the complete superbness of Houston’s vocals, it is not surprising that the song is highly revered as a vocal standard today.

It begins with a stunning acapella introduction, showcasing Houston’s vocal control and power. She brings precision to each word she sings, notes growing and decreasing in volume.

As the song continues, the experience intensifies. In “The Bodyguard” Houston plays the role of Rachel Marron, a music star who falls in love with her bodyguard, Frank Farmer portrayed by Kevin Kostner. As their relationship is complicated, Rachel sings through their departure in this song. She expresses her adoration for him, but understands that it is best for them to separate. While the lyrics clearly convey the meaning, Houston’s powerhouse vocals are really what sets this rendition apart from all the others, and certainly demonstrates the song’s longevity.

What starts as a light falsetto at the beginning, grows with a key change. Houston belts the words “I will always love you,” an unwavering testimony. The words, although clearly alluding to an unfortunate parting, are delivered in a way that showcases to the listener her unabashed declaration. Rarely do you meet a person with a basic knowledge of popular music that does not know the powerful chorus.

Without Parton’s expert songwriting, Houston’s ballad version would never have existed. Parton’s country style to her very own piece achieved great success after its 1974 release, earning the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1974 and 1982. But Houston, regarded as one of the greatest vocalists of all time, executed a distinct interpretation with a skill set that one cannot simply disregard. She brought a monumental level of emotion, passion, and love to the words with the buildup in each verse of the song. Various artists have covered Parton’s song, including Kristen Chenoweth, Linda Ronstadt, and Sarah Washington. But Houston’s version is arguably the one that has truly stood the test of time.

The song is a clear representation of love, whether it be romantic or platonic. Houston’s version has been played at weddings, covered on talent competitions like “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol,” and has even been featured in movies, the most recent being the 2019 film “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” The meaning behind its words will never fade as such feelings transcend generations.

Whether looking back on the iconic career of Houston, or the artistic impact of “I Will Always Love You,” this specific interpretation has surely gone down in history as a ballad that continues to remain culturally significant.

Kaycee Hubbard is an undergraduate student at the University of North Texas majoring in journalism with a concentration in digital and print. She has had work published in her college's newspaper, The North Texas Daily, and for USA Today. She hopes to pursue a career in music journalism and write for a magazine after graduating. In her spare time, she enjoys singing and listening to old school R&B, reading fantasy novels, and exercising.
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