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10 Songs You Didn't Know Dolly Parton Wrote: Hits By Whitney Houston, Kenny Rogers & More
Country icon Dolly Parton has had plenty of hits with her own name on it, but she’s also behind several songs by some of her fellow legends in country music and beyond
Editor's Note: The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show, officially known as the 64th GRAMMY Awards, has been rescheduled to Sunday, April 3, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The below article was updated on Tuesday, Jan. 18, to reflect the new show date and location.
Dolly Parton estimates that she has written close to 3,000 songs throughout her illustrious seven-decade career. While 450 of those songs have been recorded, Parton hasn't always been the artist to sing them: Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr. and Kenny Rogers have famously recorded and released tracks written by the 10-time GRAMMY winner.
"I love to write songs for men," Parton says in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. "And it's a good thing I do because back then, there weren't that many women in the country-music business to write songs for. Especially ones who weren't writing their own songs, like Loretta Lynn was. I didn't have a lot of space to write songs for women so I purposefully tried to write songs that men could record. Or songs that could go either way."
That's not to say women haven't been a part of Parton's canon. She penned songs that have been recorded by Emmylou Harris and Skeeter Davis, and even gave Whitney Houston one of the biggest songs of her career.
Parton's songs have taken on new life thanks to artists across countless genres. In celebration of the Country Music Hall of Famer's 76th birthday on Jan. 19, GRAMMY.com takes a look back at 10 songs you may not have known Dolly Parton wrote.
"Put It Off Until Tomorrow," Bill Phillips
Before Parton became a household name for her own music, she was a songwriter for other artists. In January 1966, Bill Phillips released one of the songs she penned, "Put It Off Until Tomorrow," on which she provided backing vocals. The song peaked at No. 6 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart three months later, and the track's success helped garner Parton a recording contract with Monument Records. (Phillips also recorded Parton's "The Company You Keep," which became another top 10 hit later that year.)
"Fuel to the Flame," Skeeter Davis
Parton's career may not have taken off without her uncle Bill Owens, who recognized his niece's talent from a young age. In her early years in Nashville, Parton would frequently write with Owens and one of their earliest cuts together was when Skeeter Davis recorded and released "Fuel to the Flame" as a single in 1967. A beautiful ballad of a burgeoning love, "Fuel to the Flame" gave Davis her first major hit in two years, helping the star prolong her career while simultaneously helping launch Dolly's.
"Kentucky Gambler," Merle Haggard
A year before he wrote "Always Wanting You" for Dolly, Haggard recorded "Kentucky Gambler" in September 1974 at Nashville's Columbia Studios while Parton provided harmony. A song about a miner who left behind his wife and kids, "Kentucky Gambler" is a classic Dolly Parton story song providing a lesson on greed.
Released as a single with the Strangers later that year, Haggard's version of "Kentucky Gambler" reached No. 1 on Jan. 18, 1975. Parton recorded her own version of the song in 1973 and included it on her 1975 album The Bargain Store, but Haggard's rendition is most recognized today.
"There'll Always Be Music," Tina Turner
Two years after Tina Turner and then-husband Ike Turner got the world dancing with their iconic hit "Proud Mary," Tina kicked off her solo career by dabbling in country music. Her 10-track debut solo studio album, Tina Turns the Country On!, had an A-list roster of songwriters including Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Hank Snow and Parton, who penned "There'll Always Be Music."
The piano ballad showcased Turner's soulful vocals and was an introduction to Turner apart from the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. While the album didn't chart, it did earn Turner a GRAMMY nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female.
"I'm In No Condition," Hank Williams Jr.
Like many of Parton's songs that were recorded by someone else, the singer still included her own version of "I'm In No Condition" on her 1967 album Hello, I'm Dolly. But after listening to Hank Williams Jr.'s rendition, it's hard to believe it was written for anyone but him.
An honest portrayal of the struggle in the aftermath of a breakup, the song laments a love he didn't want to end — underlined by the song's titular chorus line, "I'm in no condition to try to love again." Though it wasn't one of Williams Jr.'s most successful singles, it certainly encapsulated the vulnerability the bellowing star brought to the genre.
"Circle of Love," Jennifer Nettles
Jennifer Nettles played the role of Parton's mother, Avie Lee Parton, in the 2016 television movie "Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love" based on a true story from Parton's childhood. In classic Dolly fashion, she penned the film's heartfelt title track by herself.
Moved by the waltzing song's biblical message, Nettles also included her version on her solo To Celebrate Christmas holiday album released that year. Parton shared her own recording on her 2020 holiday album, A Holly Dolly Christmas, which is nominated for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album this year, and teamed up with Nettles to duet the song on "The Voice" that December.
"The Stranger," Kenny Rogers
One month before Parton and her longtime collaborator Kenny Rogers released their revered Once Upon a Christmas holiday album, Rogers unveiled his What About Me? album in October 1984. Though that project didn't include vocals from his singing partner, Rogers still had a touch of Dolly on the record: the powerful story song "The Stranger," written by Parton.
It's a tale of a boy wondering why his father deserted him before he was born only to meet him a decade after his mother's death. "The Stranger" is a descriptive and heart-wrenching tune that pulls the listener right into the song. "It was me and mamma that you left behind," Rogers croons at the song's close. "You're just a stranger."
"Waltz Me to Heaven," Waylon Jennings
While Parton reportedly wrote "Waltz Me to Heaven" for Waylon Jennings, the song first appeared on the 1984 film soundtrack for "Rhinestone," starring Parton and Sylvester Stallone. Her youngest brother, Floyd Parton, sang on the original track.
Later that year, Jennings included "Waltz Me to Heaven" on Waylon's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2. The stirring waltz highlights Jennings' memorable baritone alongside sweeping pedal steel and delicate fiddle accompaniment. Jennings' "Waltz Me to Heaven" made the soundtrack song a hit, reaching No. 10 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.
"To Daddy," Emmylou Harris
A song written from the perspective of a teenager watching an unhappy relationship between her parents transpire, "To Daddy" sees the mother leaving her unaffectionate husband. The poignant tale clearly meant a lot to Harris and Parton, as Emmylou released it as a single from her 1977 album, Quarter Moon in Cent Town, and Dolly included it in her 1995 compilation, The Essential Dolly Parton, Vol. 1.
Harris' version also resonated with fans: It scored her a No. 3 hit on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart in 1978, and it was the only song featured on the 2003 tribute album Just Because I'm a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton that wasn't recorded specifically for the project.
"I Will Always Love You," Whitney Houston
Long before Whitney Houston broke countless records with her rendition of "I Will Always Love You," Parton wrote and released the song as a letter to Porter Wagoner. After telling Wagoner she wanted to leave The Porter Wagoner Show countless times and Wagoner ignoring those wishes, Parton decided to do what she does best: write a song.
"I wrote the song, took it back in the next day, and I said, 'Porter, sit down. I've got something I have to sing to you,'" Parton recalled in Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns' Country Music book and documentary. "So, I sang it, and he was sitting at his desk, and he was crying. He said, 'That's the best thing you ever wrote. Okay, you can go, but only if I can produce that record.'"
While Parton's recording landed at No. 1 on two different occasions (upon its release in 1974 and again in 1982, when a new version was recorded and released for the film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), it was Houston's spellbinding 1992 version from The Bodyguard that took the world by storm.
Spending 14 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Houston's "I Will Always Love You" became the best-selling physical single by a woman, with 20 million copies sold to date. Houston's version also took home Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female at the 1994 GRAMMYs — creating an everlasting legacy for Whitney and Dolly alike.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com
GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations: Jennifer Hudson
From timeless classics to infectious pop gems, GRAMMY winner Jennifer Hudson goes deep on six influential GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings
(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, GRAMMY.com has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with various individuals who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)
Vocal powerhouse Jennifer Hudson grew up in Chicago in the '80s and '90s, but it was a piece of classic '70s disco that first made her want to put her talents to use as a professional performer.
"When I heard 'Got To Be Real' [by Cheryl Lynn] it just grabbed me," says Hudson. "That was the song that made me think, 'Oh God — that's what I want to do.' I'd mark off a little stage on the floor and hold my hairbrush microphone and jump up and down. I'd lose it."
A solid disco beat can still move her, but Hudson also cites gospel music as a major influence, having sung often in the church in her childhood with an extended family of talented vocalists.
Hudson got the chance to make her own music career real in 2004 when she delivered several knockout performances as a contestant on "American Idol." Her breakout role in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls followed in 2006, and two years later she took home Best R&B Album honors for her self-titled debut at the 51st GRAMMY Awards [link to show page].
With plans underway for her third studio album, Hudson reigns as one of the most gifted and affecting performers of her generation. Here are six recordings from the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame that continue to make her want to reach for the microphone — hairbrush or otherwise.
"I have a hard time remembering what I was doing the first time I heard a lot of the Whitney songs because I went crazy for everything she did. That first album really had an effect on me. 'Saving All My Love For You,' 'How Will I Know,' 'Greatest Love Of All' — just saying the names of the songs makes me want to cry all over again. I do remember that 'Greatest Love Of All' was a total game changer for me. It was a song that had a very different kind of power. It didn't make you want to dance like my other favorites had done — this one captivated you. It put you into a trance. You started listening to that song and the world around you went silent.
"Whitney had that effect right from the start. There's a time to dance, and there's a time to listen, and Whitney had a voice that you had to listen to. The thing that has always amazed me is that her music is so powerful, and yet it's so soothing. In some ways it's perfect ear candy, but it can also move you to tears."
"When it is time to dance, this is the [song]. I think everybody has the experience with music that certain songs are powerful enough to take you right back to a certain time and place. There are songs you appreciate for the music, but there are songs you just feel are like old friends — you've got some history with them. For me, hearing Patti LaBelle and the group singing 'Lady Marmalade' takes me right back to the times when I was first getting so excited about music. This is the kind of song that just made me jump up and want to be a part of what was going on.
"I also remember being impressed by the look and the image of LaBelle too, which I didn't really know about until I'd already been familiar with the song. [They were] so much fun, and so expressive. I wish things were a little more like that now. Sometimes it feels like everything's been done. You think somebody has a new look and it turns out LaBelle [were] already there.
"Oh Happy Day"
Edwin Hawkins Singers
"I started out singing in church choruses, and even before I was singing I was sitting [on] my grandmother's lap while she was singing the chorus on Sunday or at choir rehearsal. My whole family sang — my grandmother was the youngest of 11 siblings and they all sang together as a group. I remember they'd do these warm-ups where they'd go around and everybody in the family had to sing their name: 'My name is Jennifer Hudson, how do you do?'
"I always loved that feeling of being surrounded by music and family, and that's a feeling I get from 'Oh Happy Day,' which is kind of funny because for all the singing we did in church, I don't think we sang that song. Once I heard it though, I couldn't get enough of it. It's one of those great pieces of music that's a real church song, but it gets you there just like any great up-tempo pop song. It gives you that great feeling of energy and makes you smile. It does what the title tells you it does — makes your day a happier one."
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Simon & Garfunkel
"I just absolutely love this song, and have from the first time I heard it. But for a long time what I was familiar with was the Aretha Franklin version. A friend finally introduced me to the Simon & Garfunkel original. Their recording is so perfect and so heavenly — every time I hear it I either want to sing along with the whole thing, or just say, 'Hallelujah.' The sound is so pure and the arrangement is so beautiful, it just sends you away. Then, when you really listen to the words, it's beautiful on a whole different level. What does everyone want in life but a bridge over troubled water?
"This is the kind of song that makes me wonder: When it was being written and recorded, did they have a sense of how amazing and timeless this was? Did they know from the start it was a masterpiece? I think we musicians know when we've done the best we can do, and that's a great feeling. But I wonder if there's an extra awareness when you create something that's just going to last forever. This song is definitely in that category."
"The Way We Were"
"I don't remember my first time hearing Barbra Streisand. I just think I was always aware that she was the top — that she's as good as you can get as a singer and a performer.
"The first time I really became aware of just how special a talent she had was when I actually had to get it together to sing a couple of her songs at one of Clive Davis' Pre-GRAMMY [Galas]. It was a tribute for her, and two days before the show Clive asked me to sing 'People' and 'The Way We Were.' I had to take on these two gigantic signature songs — songs that aren't easy to deliver — and sing them with her sitting right in front of me. Are you kidding me? I almost lost my mind.
"She makes the first few lines of 'People' sound so easy, but melodically it's very difficult to get it just right. To this day I want to sing that over again and get it right — a little more right. I think I must have spoken to her after I sang, but I was so terrified I don't remember a thing. I think she was smiling, but I don't know. I love her. I'd sing for her again if I could — but maybe not one of her songs."
(Jennifer Hudson won her first career GRAMMY in 2008 for Best R&B Album for Jennifer Hudson. As an actress, her role in the 2006 film Dreamgirls earned her numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. A day after the death of Whitney Houston on Feb. 11, 2012, Hudson performed "I Will Always Love You" as a special tribute on the 54th GRAMMY Awards telecast.)
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)
Special GRAMMY Tribute To Honor Whitney Houston
Jennifer Hudson to pay tribute to late GRAMMY-winning artist on the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards
A special musical tribute to six-time GRAMMY winner Whitney Houston featuring GRAMMY-winning artist Jennifer Hudson has been added to the lineup for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
Houston died Feb. 11 at age 48. A cause of death was not disclosed.
"A light has been dimmed in our music community today, and we extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends, fans and all who have been touched by her beautiful voice," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy.
Houston won her first GRAMMY Award in 1985 for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for "Saving All My Love For You." She won the same award in 1987 for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." In 1993 Houston won three GRAMMYs: Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female and Record Of The Year for "I Will Always Love You"; and Album Of The Year for The Bodyguard — Original Soundtrack. Houston's most recent GRAMMY win came in 1999 for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "It's Not Right But It's Okay."
Hudson won her first career GRAMMY in 2008 for Best R&B Album for Jennifer Hudson.
The show is produced by John Cossette Productions and AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, Louis J. Horvitz is director, and David Wild and Ken Ehrlich are the writers.
The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards will take place live on Sunday, Feb. 12 at Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be broadcast in high definition and 5.1 surround sound on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The show also will be supported on radio worldwide via Westwood One/Dial Global, and covered online at GRAMMY.com and CBS.com, and on YouTube.
Follow GRAMMY.com for our inside look at GRAMMY news, blogs, photos, videos, and of course nominees. Stay up to the minute with GRAMMY Live. Check out the GRAMMY legacy with GRAMMY Rewind. Keep track of this year's GRAMMY Week events, and explore this year's GRAMMY Fields. Or check out the collaborations at Re:Generation, presented by Hyundai Veloster. And join the conversation at Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Jon Stewart to LL Cool J: Who has hosted the GRAMMYs?
From Andy Williams and Whoopi Goldberg to Jon Stewart and LL Cool J, GRAMMY hosts have been a varied cast
When LL Cool J takes the stage to open the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards, nobody's going to question his hosting credentials. The two-time GRAMMY-winning rapper, also star of "NCIS: Los Angeles," is a multiplatform dynamo. Plus he's experienced — he led last year's GRAMMY extravaganza at Staples Center.
The producers of Music's Biggest Night haven't always relied on the kind of superstar who can swing deftly from a concert stage to a TV set to shepherd millions of viewers through the telecast, though. Before LL Cool J got the nod in 2012, the GRAMMYs went hostless for several years. And before that — from the first nontelevised ceremony in 1959, with political comedian Mort Sahl, to 2005, when GRAMMY winner Queen Latifah was at the helm — an assortment of talents have played the role of GRAMMY host.
If they have anything in common, it may be along the lines of what a combined 50-plus years of Record and Song Of The Year awards share: they're all hugely recognizable. And more than a little influential.
Hosts, like the winning recordings, have been notable for the way they engaged (Paul Simon, host at the 23rd GRAMMY Awards in 1981, performed his relentlessly catchy "Late In The Evening"), or for the doses of poignancy they brought to the proceedings (just last year at the 54th GRAMMY Awards, LL Cool J led a prayer for the late Whitney Houston). Some captured the zeitgeist and, like certain songs, will go down in GRAMMY history for catching people off guard.
Take Jon Stewart.
Stewart, along with Garry Shandling and Paul Reiser before him, fits the category of GRAMMY comedian hosts, an era that spans from 1987, when Billy Crystal began his three-year run, to 2002, when Stewart hosted for a second year. Stewart's entrance onto the 44th Annual GRAMMY stage on Feb. 27, 2002, was less than grand: At the end of an opening skit in which he tussled with a pretend airportlike security team – a riff on the pumped-up security measures that swept the country soon after Sept. 11 — he was stripped, forcibly, down to his boxers.
Because the GRAMMYs are well-versed in the ways of rock stars, their fashion sense included, the show is only nominally a black-tie event (at least since the mid-'60s, when, pre-televised, it was held in hotel ballrooms on both coasts). Boxers only, though, was a bolder-than-usual fashion statement.
At times, GRAMMY hosts such as Kelsey Grammer have been caught off guard. The TV actor, who hosted the 40th annual show in 1998, had to figure out what to make of the shirtless stage crasher who forever will be known as "Soy Bomb" because of those same two words, inexplicably painted across his bare chest. Soy Bomb, neé Michael Portnoy, memorably interrupted Bob Dylan's performance of "Love Sick," from his Album Of The Year-winning Time Out Of Mind, that night. Grammer — though he played a psychologist on TV at the time — was as confused by the stunt as everyone else.
Before comedy became a staple at GRAMMY telecasts, hosts were tapped for their own musical accomplishments. Andy Williams, a '60s superstar for indelible hits such as "Moon River" as well as his two TV variety series, hosted the first seven live shows, starting in 1971 with the 13th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
In 1978, for the 20th Annual GRAMMY Awards, Williams gave way to John Denver, then in his recording prime. Like Williams, Denver went on to become a regular — he hosted five more times, winding up his tenure in 1985. But his run was not without interruptions. Country star Kenny Rogers hosted in 1980, at the 22nd Annual GRAMMY Awards, and went on to host again six years later. Denver also put his hosting duties on hiatus in 1981, at the 23rd Annual GRAMMYs, when Simon signed on.
Williams is the only one of those early musical chart-toppers not to have won a GRAMMY himself, though he was nominated several times. In all, since the first broadcast, seven hosts have won GRAMMYs. Besides Denver, Rogers and Simon, Stewart won Best Comedy Album for 2004's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents … America: A Citizens Guide To Democracy Inaction and Best Spoken Word Album for his 2010 release The Daily With Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Audiobook); Whoopi Goldberg, who hosted the 34th Annual GRAMMYs in 1992, during the comedian-as-host phase and won for Best Comedy Recording for her 1985 album Whoopi Goldberg — Original Broadway Show Recording; Queen Latifah, who hosted in 2005 and won Best Rap Solo Performance in 1994 for "U.N.I.T.Y."; and current host LL Cool J, who won Best Rap Solo Performance in 1991 for "Mama Said Knock You Out" and in 1996 for "Hey Lover." DeGeneres is vying to become the eighth with a current 55th GRAMMY nomination for Best Spoken Word Album. Simon has given the most acceptance speeches — he's won 16 GRAMMYs.
While GRAMMY hosts have a knack for scoring GRAMMYs themselves, that isn't the only thing connecting them, achievement-wise. Several have gone on to host other awards broadcasts, too — most notably Crystal, who has hosted the Academy Awards a whopping nine times. Goldberg and Stewart have also been Oscar hosts, though, and so has DeGeneres, who hosted the 38th and 39th Annual GRAMMYs in 1996 and 1997, respectively. Rosie O'Donnell — another veteran of the era of comedic GRAMMY hosts for her 1999–2000 stint — has been a regular host of the Tony Awards. And Queen Latifah has helmed the People's Choice Awards and the BET Awards.
No matter what they went on to do, or how many stages they won awards on themselves, each has proved an essential, memorable part of Music's Biggest Night.
(Tammy La Gorce is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in The New York Times, and on All Music Guide and Amazon.com.)
Whitney Houston, 29th GRAMMY Awards
Apple Music Exclusive: Watch Classic GRAMMY Performances
The Recording Academy teams with Apple Music to offer historical GRAMMY performances by Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Shania Twain, Kendrick Lamar, and more
To celebrate the GRAMMY Awards' 60th anniversary and the show's return to New York for the first time in 15 years, the Recording Academy and Apple Music are bringing fans a special video collection of exclusive GRAMMY performances and playlists that represent the illustrious history of Music's Biggest Night.
Available exclusively via Apple Music in a dedicated GRAMMYs section, the celebratory collection features 60-plus memorable performances specifically curated across six genres: pop, rap, country, rock, R&B, and jazz.
The artist performances featured in the collection include Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing" (25th GRAMMY Awards, 1983); Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love Of All" (29th GRAMMY Awards, 1987); Run DMC, "Tougher Than Leather" (30th GRAMMY Awards, 1988); Miles Davis, "Hannibal" (32nd GRAMMY Awards, 1990); Shania Twain, "Man, I Feel Like A Woman" (41st GRAMMY Awards, 1999); Dixie Chicks, "Landslide" (45th GRAMMY Awards, 2003); Bruno Mars and Sting, "Locked Out Of Heaven" and "Walking On The Moon" (55th GRAMMY Awards, 2013); and Kendrick Lamar, "The Blacker The Berry" (58th GRAMMY Awards, 2016).
The 60th GRAMMY Awards will take place at New York City's Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. The telecast will be broadcast live on CBS at 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT.
Carrie Underwood, John Legend To Host "GRAMMYs Greatest Stories"