Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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She has been a fixture on the contemporary music scene for over forty-five years, an artist much-loved in Britain since Liverpudlian Cilla Black covered her original version of the now-classic ”Anyone Who Had A Heart” in1963.

Even though Dionne Warwick’s string of ‘60s hits was never exactly duplicated in the U.K., the New Jersey-born singer earned a place in the hearts of British music lovers way back then and she remains virtually the only black female vocalist who can tour the U.K. on a consistent basis, playing venues literally across the country: her current trek (which began on February 2 and ends on February 17) includes stops in Northampton, Liverpool, Harrogate, Glasgow, Southend, Croydon (REVIEWED), Margate and Salford.

Indeed, often forgotten is that Dionne was the very first U.S. black female solo vocalist from her generation to achieve international recognition. As a special guest of the late actress/performer Marlene Dietrich (whose musical director happened to be one, Burt Bacharach, one half of the songwriting and producing team with Hal David responsible for Dionne’s first hits) at The Olympia Theatre in Paris in 1963, she preceded the European debut appearances by The Supremes and Mary Wells who would lead the beginning what would become Motown’s breakthrough in Britain the following year when Dionne was also climbing the pop charts with Bacharach-David tunes like “Walk On By” and “You’ll Never Get To Heaven.” Subsequently, she would be included in a Burt Bacharach BBC television special, perform at the highly prestigious Savoy Hotel and become the musical darling of the international jet-set of the ‘60s.

Dionne’s ascension to global popularity had its roots in the world of gospel music: born in East Orange, New Jersey on December 12, 1940, Marie Dionne Warrick was immediately exposed to gospel by virtue of the family group, The Drinkard Singers (whose line-up included her aunt Emily – better known as ‘Cissy’ – and various aunts and uncles alongside Judy Clay, who was ‘adopted’ by Dionne’s mother Lee, who also managed the Drinkards). She learned to play the piano, sang with the choir of the New Hope Baptist Church in nearby Newark and in her early teens, formed her own group The Gospelaires with younger sister Delia (nicknamed Dee Dee). A visit to see The Drinkards at The Apollo Theater in Harlem led to a first studio session for Dionne and Dee Dee, singing behind saxophonist Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor on a gospel song entitled “Won’t You Deliver Me” for Savoy Records.

It was the beginning of a spate of background sessions the two Warrick sisters would do, often in the company of good friend the late Doris (“Just One Look”) Troy: it was at a Drifters’ date for the song “Mexican Divorce” that Dionne was approached by then up-and-coming songwriter Burt Bacharach (the tune’s co-writer) to do demos for him and new partner Hal David. One such demo, “It’s Love That Really Counts” caught the ears of Scepter Records’ owner Florence Greenberg and in August 1962, Dionne stepped into Bell Sound studios in New York for her first recording session. It yielded the soulful pop and R&B smash, “Don’t Make Me Over”: a spelling error by the label turned Warrick into Warwick and thus began a momentous journey that spawned a decade of hits for Scepter (including “I Say A Little Prayer,” “Do You Know The Way To San Jose,” “Alfie” and many more). The musical marriage of Bacharach, David and Warwick produced some of the era’s finest recordings: check albums like “Presenting Dionne Warwick” and “Anyone Who Had A Heart” (which both feature some recordings produced by Scepter staff writer/producer Luther Dixon) and later LPs such as “The Sensitive Sound Of…” and “Here I Am” for many soulful treasures.

As the ‘60s ended, Dionne’s recordings began to feature more standards and non-B/D originals and in 1971, she left Scepter for what was at the time, the biggest recording deal offered to a female artist of the day: Warner Brothers Records wooed Dionne, expecting the trio to continue delivering hits. When Bacharach and David stopped working together in 1972, Dionne hoped to keep her recording career in gear by working with a variety of producers including Holland-Dozier-Holland (the album, “Just Being Myself”), Jerry Ragovoy (“Then Came You”), Thom Bell (“Track Of The Cat”) and Michael Omartian (“Love At First Sight”). Musically, her Warners’ years – often dismissed because of the lack of hit singles (with the exception of her 1974 Bell-produced U.S. No. 1 duet with The Spinners’ “Then Came You”) – was actually very strong and since all of her albums for the label are now available on CD, they’re definitely worth checking out.

In 1978, finally free of Warners, Dionne signed to Arista Records: founder and chairman Clive Davis was convinced he could restore the singer’s stature as a pop music icon and teamed her with singer/songwriter Barry Manilow. The immediate result was her first platinum album (“Dionne”) and two Grammy-winning major hit singles (“I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and “Déjà Vu,” the latter co-written by Isaac Hayes). Dionne spent an amazing fifteen years with Arista and further international success came with the 1982 Barry Gibb-produced “Heartbreaker” album (recently reissued in the UK on CD) and 1985’s “That’s What Friends Are For” (with longtime friends Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Elton John) which raised much-needed funds for AIDS research, an important cause for which Dionne was one of the first, spokespeople. Other highlights from her Arista years include “Hot, Live & Otherwise” (also recently reissued by Soul Records),” “Friends In Love” and “So Amazing” (produced by the late Luther Vandross, a longtime Warwick fan and friend). Dionne’s final recording for the label was 1994’s “Aquarela Do Brasil,” a set that reflected her love affair with the country of Brazil which has been her second home for many years now.

While she has recorded less prolifically since, R&B Foundation Lifetime Achievement Awardee, multiple Grammy Award-winner and musical legend Dionne Warwick continues to tour the world, sharing her music with audiences who love her distinctive brand of pop and soul. A new CD is due this year on Rhino Records: “Why We Sing” pays tribute to her gospel roots, a fitting continuation of her recorded legacy.

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