Some North Carolina high school seniors received a welcomed surprise last weekend when their principal sang Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” at their graduation.
Principal Marcus Gause performed his rendition of the song a cappella, pointing at individual students as he sang the chorus, and received roaring applause from the students. A video of the performance was uploaded to social media by a school board member.
“One of the things that the pandemic has really taught us is that we need more love. The students know that we love and care for them,” Gause said. He said he wanted to portray the lyrics to his students. They got the message. As one student said, he would “never forget” the principal’s moving song. “He is a big part of why I am who I am today.”
The story behind “I Will Always Love You”
Many think of Whitney Houston when they hear the song the principal sang and falsely assume she wrote the lyrics. Dolly Parton actually wrote the song in 1973 when she was planning on ending her business partnership with Porter Wagoner. Elvis Presley wanted to record the song in its early years, but Parton refused when Presley’s manager demanded half the publishing rights.
With Parton’s permission, Whitney Houston’s version of the song was recorded in 1992 for the movie The Bodyguard. Houston’s rendition won many awards and brought the song to instant fame.
The lyrics could have easily been written after a broken romance rather than a business partnership’s ending. It seems an unlikely choice for graduates. But, the principal’s heartfelt words to the graduates were clear: “I will always love you.”
And the song’s final stanza sends a strong message to the graduates going into the world:
And I hope life, will treat you kind
And I hope that you have all
That you ever dreamed of
Oh, I do wish you joy
And I wish you happiness.
Hardwired for music
Music is powerful. The principal got the seniors’ attention with his performance, and they responded to it.
Barbara Else, senior advisor of policy and research at the American Music Therapy Association, said in Medical News Today that “we have such a deep connection to music because it is ‘hardwired’ in our brains and bodies. The elements of music— rhythm, melody, etc.— are echoed in our physiology, functioning and being.”
When I think about being “hardwired” for music, I can’t help but think of the One who did the “hardwiring.”
Our Creator sings over us: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
Music helps us remember things. God gave a song to Moses for the Israelites to help them recall his laws: “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give” (Deuteronomy 31:19–21).
My husband often says that many of us know our theology because of the hymns we’ve sung over and over again.
The Apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Colossae to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Music is a means of teaching and admonishing.
And, our Father has hardwired us for singing praises to him. Psalm 47 begins, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” and continues, “Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! (vv. 6–7).
The high school seniors will long remember the love their principal expressed in song.
All of us long to be known deeply and loved anyway. We should always remember that our heavenly Father who sings over us loves us and wants what’s best for us . . . no matter the cost.
And it cost him his Son.