HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: She's the silky-smooth singer who remains the best-ever interpreter of sophisticated, stylish Bacharach-David songs.
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Songbird, TV Star, and Movie Star
BIRTH: She was born in '40 and thus was a sweet nineteen as the decade began. Her exotic birthplace: East Orange, New Jersey. Her birth name was Marie Dionne Warrick, but on her first album in '62 her last name was misspelled Warwick, which she then adopted. Then, for a brief period in the '70s, she changed the spelling of Warwick to Warwicke, based on advice from numerologist Linda Goodman. After a career slump, by the '80s she'd changed her name back to Warwick and enjoyed renewed success.
IMPACT ON THE '60s: A dominant chart presence for most of the decade, Dionne was one of the most successful American singers. Her pairing with Burt Bacharach and Hal David was like a match made in radio heaven. Not only did Bacharach and David write her songs, they produced her records. The collaboration was one of the best of the '60s, resulting in such timeless, elegant hits as "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?," "Walk On By," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Alfie," and "Here I Am" (from the movie What's New Pussycat?, '65). During the decade the trio sold twelve million records. In 2000 VH1 said that Dionne had the second-highest number of appearances on the Hot 100 chart of any female singer in history (first was Aretha Franklin with 77 appearances, then Dionne and Connie Francis tied with 56 appearances).
CAREER IN THE '60s: Dionne was a star from the moment she recorded her first Bacharach-David song, "Don't Make Me Over," in '62, though that song was more soulful than what she did later with the team. It was an immediate hit on both the pop and R & B charts, making her one of the first black crossover artists. Soon she was headlining Harlem's Apollo Theatre and singing on TV. Writing complex songs that required dozens of takes, Bacharach and David gradually smoothed out her sound and made it more mainstream, bringing her the mass acceptance she enjoyed for most of the decade. She herself claimed she was "the little girl who brought downtown uptown." Here's singer/songwriter Paul Zollo's description of her in his book Songwriters on Songwriting:
"Dionne Warwick could do it all, and whether the song was 'Alfie,' 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose?,' 'What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love,' 'Walk On By,' 'I'll Never Fall in Love Again,' or 'Say a Little Prayer,' she made it very much her own. Bacharach would tailor the arrangements to show off her spectacular voice, smoothly cushioning the sound with his signature use of muted trumpets and strings, and the records they made together were magic."
Though everybody had a go at singing them, including Petula Clark, Nancy Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and Bobbie Gentry, Dionne's versions were the best. One of her hits, "Alfie," had been recorded by 42 artists before she sang it, but her version outsold all the others. She also sang the theme song for the movie Valley of the Dolls in '67. From '63 to '69 Dionne recorded an amazing nineteen top-forty hits, and she became the first black female singer to record a dozen top-100 singles. Ironically, a song that was one of her most famous, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?," was one of her least-favorite songs (though it did bring her another Grammy).
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: "I am a combination of my entire family," she said on an A&E biography about her. That family included a father who promoted gospel records and a mother who managed a gospel group comprised of various aunts and uncles. As a child Dionne studied ballet and piano, then as a young teen she sang with the Gospelaires, a mid-'50s gospel-singing group that included her aunt, Cissy Houston, who was Whitney Houston's mother. The group played the Apollo and sang backup on different records. In '59 Dionne attended the Hartford College of Music in Connecticut, but she continued to sing backup for other artists. In '62 she quit school and moved to New York, where she was soon discovered by composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David. Their legendary collaboration filled the rest of the decade. After the '60s, Dionne slumped during the '70s as powerful soul music, propelled by Aretha Franklin, made Dionne's sophisticated pop seem irrelevant. Dionne wasn't the only one in the doldrums -- Bacharach and David split up after their film musical, Lost Horizon, tanked with critics and audiences. At one point Dionne even sued the pair for $5.5 million, finally settling out of court. Dionne did have one big hit in the '70s, the peppy "Then Came You" in '74. She continued to tour and at decade's end signed with Arista Records, where president Clive Davis praised her as "a writer's dream come true." Barry Manilow wrote and produced her first Arista hit, "I'll Never Love This Way Again," followed by another Manilow-produced hit, "Deja Vu" (written by Dionne's touring pal Isaac Hayes). Dionne got some screen work in the '80s when she hosted "Solid Gold" for two nonconsecutive years ('80-'81 and '85-'86), plus she had appearances in TV's "The Return of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer" in '86 and the Burt Reynolds flick Rent-a-Cop in '88. Twenty years after her first hit song she had another one, "Heartbreaker" in '82. In '85 she reteamed with Bacharach for "That's What Friends Are For," donating the proceeds to AIDs research (and winning her fifth Grammy in '87). She's been releasing albums right up to the end of the millennium and now has over three-dozen albums on her resume. She also did a nice, well-received turn at the Oscars in March 2000, singing "Alfie" as part of the movie-music medley to the accompaniment of Burt Bacharach. And she's continued to be a major charity fundraiser with her Warwick Foundation, organizing benefit concerts and generating millions of dollars for AIDs research.
TALENT: Though not a soulful singer a la Janis Joplin or Dusty Springfield, her precise vocals ranged from aching, cracking passion to subtle, almost effortless restraint. Many have praised her voice as being one of the best ever in pop. "When Dionne sings a song, she owns it," said cousin Whitney Houston. Said Dick Clark, "She has a haunting voice ... it stays with you forever. She stood out as a magnificent ballad singer with that very very unusual voice of hers, she didn't fit any category." Actually, she fit every category, scoring hits on the pop charts and R & B charts with slow songs, uptempo numbers, and string-laden romantic powerhouse hits. A versatile talent, she also had a major role in the movie Slaves in '69, plus she did concert tours all over the world and headlined at Vegas. An example of the latter came on July 30, 1969, when she was at the Sands with Rodney Dangerfield and the Constellations. When on stage, she rarely talked between songs and instead just sang, putting the focus on the music: "I don't care who's been on before me, or who's gonna come on after, while I'm there it's all mine," she said. Her talents have brought her all the major music awards, starting in the '60s when she won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Female in '68 for "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" and again in '70 for "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." In the '80s she became the first artist ever to win the Grammy Award in the pop and R & B categories in the same year. In 2001 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, though she herself never published a song that she composed -- the honor was for her ability to make other people's songs into classics. Dionne said it was her second-favorite tribute, the first being the renaming of her old school from Lincoln Elementary to the Dionne Warwick Institute.
HER '60s LOOK: Well-groomed, with exotic features, Dionne always wore long glamorous gowns, and along with Swingin' Chick Dusty Springfield she helped define a new elegance for pop singers at a time when being mod and whimsical was the in thing. Hal David, on the A&E biography about Dionne, praised her "great cheekbones" and said she was "delicious to look at." Bacharach simply said that "she looked like a star." Throughout her long career Dionne has played with different hair styles, ranging from short cuts to shoulder-length flips to extensive curls in the '80s and '90s.
LIFESTYLE: There are no rumors of drug use or bad behavior by Dionne -- she seems like someone who has always surrounded herself with family (frequently her parents traveled with her on tour) and so she has lived a good, decent, hard-working life. The only lovelife rumors we've encountered about Dionne came to us from a fan who'd heard she dated French singer Sacha Distel in the mid-'60s. Distel's compositions have been sung by such luminaries as Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett, among others. Unfortunately, he was also dating Brigitte Bardot at the same time he was with Dionne; Bardot supposedly confronted Dionne, but Dionne remained unflappable and continued to see him for awhile, and even has stayed friends with him to this day. The same source told us that she later dated star running back Timmy Brown of the Philadelphia Eagles in '67. We do know that during the '60s she married actor/drummer Bill Elliott: "It was fashionable," said Dionne in a TV interview, "you're supposed to be a married lady, so I did." She and Elliott were divorced within a year. Soon after, they remarried. She was, she said, "Not really happy with the situation," and it was "a case of can't do with, can't do without, that's why I married him again." They had two sons, David and Damon, but divorced after ten years. Dionne then had a twelve-year relationship with Las Vegas club owner Gianni Russo, but that ended in the early '90s.
EXTRAS: Dionne has claimed that her musical influences were Marlene Dietrich (who taught her "work ethics"), Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Ella Fitzgerald ... Marlene introduced Dionne at Dionne's first international concert, a show in Paris's Olympic Theatre in the early '60s ... though not a psychic herself, Dionne's enormously successful infomercials as host for the "Psychic Friends Network" generated lots of attention -- her infomercials were selected as the best of '94 (unfortunately the Network went bankrupt in the late '90s gee, you think someone there would've seen that coming, I mean how Psychic were these Friends if nobody in the whole Network could predict the failure of their own company) ... later in the '90s Dionne spoke out against the violence of "gangsta rap" and recorded a rap song with her family as a way to show that the music could be positive and poetic ... Dionne made the news again in August 2000 when she sued a Beverly Hills travel agency for "substandard and unlawful ticketing," she had bought plane tickets from an agency for twelve people to fly from Stockholm to New York in December '99, but once in Stockholm she had to buy $20K worth of new tickets for everybody because the agency's tickets were voided without her knowledge ... another of Dionne's talents: needlepoint, which she practiced while on the road ... finally, Dionne's A&E biography concluded with this quote from her: "I earned every single thing that I have, and I've lost things as a result of me, so I don't blame anybody but Dionne, she's the one who has to stand in that space and produce whatever has to be produced."