49 Years Ago: Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner End Their Musical Partnership
Forty-nine years ago today (Feb. 19, 1974) was a bittersweet day for Dolly Parton: It was on that date that the singer announced that she was ending her long-standing partnership with Porter Wagoner, after more than seven years together.
Parton began working with Wagoner after he offered her a coveted spot on both his weekly TV program, The Porter Wagoner Show, and in his traveling show, in 1967. The two also recorded several albums together, including Just the Two of Us and Together Always. She decided to part ways with him in order to launch out completely on her own.
"I was trying to get away on my own because I had promised to stay with Porter's show for five years. I had been there for seven," Parton explains to CMT. "And we fought a lot. We were very much alike. We were both stubborn.
"We both believed that we knew what was best for us. Well, he believed he knew what was best for me, too, and I believed that I knew more what was best for me at that time," the Tennessee native adds. "So, needless to say, there was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn't listening to my reasoning for my going."
Parton's song "I Will Always Love You" was written about her professional break from Wagoner. She played the song for him as her way of saying goodbye.
"It's saying, 'Just because I'm going don't mean I won't love you. I appreciate you, and I hope you do great, and I appreciate everything you've done, but I'm out of here,'" Parton explains. “[That's] basically what I was saying. And I took it in the next morning. I said, 'Sit down, Porter. I've written this song, and I want you to hear it.' So I did sing it. And he was crying. He said, 'That's the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.' And he did, and the rest is history."
Parton went on to have a slew of country and pop hits, including "Here You Come Again," "You’re the Only One" and "9 to 5," the latter of which was the title track of the movie that also helped launch her acting career. But while the now-country icon continued to find success on her own, she didn’t forget the man who helped her in her early years; while they remained estranged for many years, the two country stars reconciled near the end of Wagoner’s life. Parton visited with her former boss, who was in hospice care after being diagnosed with lung cancer, the day of his death.
"It was really, really hard," Parton recalls to Knoxville’s News Sentinel. "I held his hand, and we prayed ... Porter's soul was already with God. All that was left was a shell.”
Following Wagoner's death at the age of 80, Parton performed a concert in his memory at her own Dollywood theme park.