“I Will Always Love You” is one of Dolly Parton’s biggest hits — and the woman has had a lot of hits. When Witney Houston covered the song in the 1992 film The Bodyguard, it earned Parton a mint in royalty fees.
Parton shared how she spent the money, which is estimated to be in the millions, from those royalties: she invested in a historically Black Nashville neighborhood.
“I bought my big office complex down in Nashville, and so I thought, ‘Well, this is a wonderful place to be,’” Parton told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen on Thursday.
There were easy questions floating around Parton’s extensive wig collection and her remarkably positive worldview. Cohen asked what was the best purchase she’s made with royalties from “I Will Always Love You” and Parton explained.
“It was a whole strip mall, and I thought this is the perfect place for me to be, considering it was Whitney, so I just thought, ‘This is great, I’m just going to be down here with her people, who are my people as well,’” she said.
Parton added, “I love the fact that I spent that money on a complex and I think, ‘This is the house that Whitney built.’”
In the 1990s, Forbes estimated that Parton earned at least $10 million from the song, which had already been a modest hit back in the 1970s as a B-side to “Jolene”. It spent 14 weeks as a Billboard top charter in 1992, which is when the song really took off.
Parton says that the first time she heard Houston’s version of the song, she had to pull over.
“I was shot so full of adrenaline and energy, I had to pull off, because I was afraid that I would wreck, so I pulled over quick as I could to listen to that whole song,” Parton said to Oprah Winfrey in 2020. “I could not believe how she did that. I mean, how beautiful it was that my little song had turned into that, so that was a major, major thing.”
Dolly Parton bought the 6,317 square foot complex in Nashville in February of 1997. David Ewing, a Nashville historian, said that Parton’s investment came at a time when recording artists did not head to that area of the city.
“We’re just hearing now, because of the Black Lives Matter movement, how down for the cause Dolly has always been — even when others in the music industry weren’t,” Ewing said. “Dolly Parton could have built and bought any piece of property in Nashville. But you would have to have gone out of your way to buy in the 12 South neighborhood, because no Realtor would have shown Dolly that lot to buy.”
And now 12 South, as it’s known, is one of the hottest parts of the city.
“…[I]t really kind of all began to be put on the map when Dolly quietly invested in the area,” Ewing said.
The investment is par for the course for Dolly; last year, she invested a million to develop the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and came out swinging big for the Black Lives Matter movement.
And because it’s Dolly f-ing Parton, of course she kept her investment quiet for decades. Just doing good all over the place, no accolades necessary. I, for one, will always love this woman.