Marie Dionne Warrick, known as Dionne Warwick, was surrounded by music ever since she was young. She first sung at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey at the age of six. She came from a gospel musical background, as her father was a gospel record promoter for Chess Records and her mother was a gospel group manager and performer of the Drinkard Singers. Fun fact, the Drinkard Singers was a gospel group consisting of many members of her family and relatives. From time to time, she sang as a soloist and fill-in voice for the them. When she was a teenager, she started her own gospel group, The Gospelaires, with her sister, Dee Dee and aunt Cissy Houston, who is the mother of Whitney Houston.
To continue pursing her passion for music, after high school, she successfully enrolled at the Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. At the same time, her group sang backing vocals for recording sessions in New York City. She sang behind many of 1960’s biggest recording stars, such as Sam Taylor, Dinah Washington, Chuck Jackson, the Drifters, and many more. At one of these recording sessions is when her life changed for the better, even though she was doing pretty well already as her group was in demand for their background vocals in New York. She was noticed by a music composer, Burt Bacharach, when the group was working with the Drifters. He hired her to record some demos of songs written by him and Hal David, a lyricist. In 1962, the demo was shown to Scepter Records and received a positive response, in which Warwick got her own record deal.
In the same year, she released her first single, “Don’t Make Me Over,” and it became a hit in 1963. Another fun fact: the reason why she is known as “Dionne Warwick” instead of her birth name “Dionne Warrick” was due to a typo on the record. Despite that, she decided to keep the name, and with her partnership with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, more and more hit songs were composed.
The way she sings makes me stop what I’m doing and appreciate her voice. It blows me away, because her voice is not only soothing and soft, but at the same time very powerful.
Below is the demo track that was presented to Sceptor Records, “It’s Love that Really Counts,” and her first single, “Don’t Make Me Over.” I decided to choose her singing live because it’s not just her singing; there’s just something about her presence as well.
The title of this single was actually a phrase that was said in anger by Warwick to Bacharach and Hal David.
After this, more hit songs were written, like “Message to Michael” which made the Top 10, and her version of “I Say a Little Prayer,” which was in the Top 5. Not only was she successful with her hit songs, her contributions to movie soundtracks was also a great success. In 1967, she sung the theme song with the same name of the film, Alfie, starring Michael Caine.
This is a live performance of the song, Alfie. Her singing is light, yet strong and powerful. (The quality is not that great, but it doesn’t take away too much from her voice. Plus you can still see her pearly white teeth.)
Another theme song with great success was “Valley of the Dolls,” and was recorded for the film with the same name. It was written by Andre Previn and Dory Previn, and at first the song was intended for someone else to sing. However, she was fired, and with the urging of Barbara Parkins, who was the actress in the film, the song was given to Warwick to sing. There were some issues that occurred due to contract restrictions, so her voice only appeared in the film, but her voice was substituted on the LP album recording of the soundtrack. Many record buyers were disappointed that they didn’t hear her voice (and I completely understand why), and there was no fine print of any sort on the LP that said that it would not include Warwick’s singing. If I bought the album and it didn’t have her soundtrack, I would’ve went back to where I bought it and demand for a refund! So due to this occurrence, her record label, Scepter Records kind of made their own version of the song. With the release of their version, it took the number 2 spot on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart and hit number 1 on the Record World Chart. It was a top hit on multiple other music charts as well.
Another one of her hits was her trademark tune, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” Warwick actually got her first Grammy Award because of her trademark tune. This pop song is catchy and sweet-sounding at the same time because of her classy voice. It also stayed on the music chart for over a year. You can’t feel sad while listening to such a pop song like this. She also made history as the first African-American woman to perform for Queen Elizabeth the Second in England the same year she earned her first Grammy.
Due to an incident between Bacharach and David, they split up. At some point she was in a slump for several years, but she came back and still topped the charts. She hosted a music program and also had successful collaborations. One of my favorite collaboration song was “Heartbreaker” with Barry Gibb and Bee Gees. It was originally recorded by Barry Gibb for Warwick’s Heartbreaker album and was written by Bee Gees. (You can feel the emotion and listening to this never fails to make me cry.)
Another hit song that I like is “That’s What Friends Are For,” and Warwick singing this with Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight makes it even better. This was a number 1 hit in 1985, and was an AIDS charity single written by Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.
Also going to include another version of this song sung live below, because it’s wonderful.
Dionne Warwick may have started her career in the 60s, but she is just as successful and popular in the 70s and 80s. She is actually still alive, though unfortunately her sister died in 2008 and Whitney Houston passed four years later. Despite encountering challenges, Warwick continues to perform and record new music. Recently, in 2013 she was on the news as she declared bankruptcy as she owed more than $10 million in unpaid taxes due to financial mismanagement during the late 1980s to the mid-1990s.
Here is a more recent live concert of Warwick’s. She looks amazing and her voice is as lovely as always.
I will end with a quote of Dionne Warwick who explained her longevity as a musician and said, “I really attribute it to remaining who I am and not jumping ship, being completely cognizant of what the people … are accustomed to hearing from me.”