An Oral History of Whitney'S Anthem ''I Will Always Love You''

Foster
Right before we started, I called Dolly Parton. I told her, ''We're doing your song — I got the Linda Ronstadt version.'' And she goes, ''Oh, no! You have to go get my version, because there's another verse.'' She gave me the lyrics to the final verse over the phone — ''And I wish you joy and happiness'' — right before I went downstairs. We had to call an audible at the last minute and make the song, like, 40 seconds longer after the director had already worked it out. But that last verse is so important. Can you imagine that song without that lyric?

Minor
Whitney came out, sang the song — I think we did it twice — and what everyone has is the first take.

Foster
The a cappella part was Kevin's idea. And I was like, ''Kevin, you're a great actor, but that is not a good idea.'' But I relented. So Whitney's standing in the ballroom of the hotel, and we're rolling, and she goes, ''If I...'' and I was like, ''Oh my God.'' I was standing beside Whitney's mother, and she turned to me and said, ''You're witnessing greatness right now.''

Davis
Radio approached my promotion team and asked us to take off that a cappella beginning, and I absolutely refused. To me, this was magic.

Van Toffler, president of MTV
There are moments in music where you pair a song with the right visual, sort of like what happened with Madonna and ''Like a Virgin'' at the VMAs. For Whitney, starring opposite a major movie star with a song that perfect just catapulted her to another level.

Whalum
I moved to Paris after that. I knew the record was out, but I didn't realize how big the song was. I'm on the subway, and I heard this girl singing the song — and then she started singing along to the sax solo.

Toffler
That video was in heavy rotation next to Alice in Chains and Snoop. She won the MTV Movie Award for Best Song From a Movie in 1993, and she sang it on the show. Let's just say that occasionally people are singing not-live. So to see somebody with that capability just stand up and sing, it's quite overwhelming.

Whalum
Whitney felt like the message was that God's love is indescribable. And not only that, it's the only love that's guaranteed.

Foster
When you think about how many rules that song broke for radio — it was a ballad, it was an R&B singer doing a country song, it's got that a cappella part, it's long. It was a perfect storm. I don't want to overdramatize, but it is the love song of the century.

Originally posted Dec 14, 2012 Published in issue #1238 Dec 21, 2012 Order article reprints