One of the first African-American recording artists to cater to a mainstream audience, Dionne Warwick is best known for her collaborations with songwriting team Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Born Marie Dionne Warrick in East Orange, New Jersey, on December 12, 1940, she began her career as an occasional fill-in singer for the Drinkard Singers, a gospel group managed by her mother, Lee. As a teenager, she formed her own group, the Gospelaires, with her sister Dee Dee and two cousins. On a scholarship, Warrick attended the University of Hartford in hopes of becoming a music teacher.
While at college, she worked as a backup singer. Working with the Drifters on their song “Mexican Divorce,” she was introduced to the then unknown songwriter Burt Bacharach. He was immediately struck by her talent and her presence. As Bacharach later remembered, “Just the way she carries herself, the way she works, her fiow and feeling for the music—it was there when I first met her.” Bacharach and his writing partner, lyricist Hal David, recruited Warrick to sing on a demo recording of several of their songs. The demo won her a contract with Spector Records. In 1962, she had her first hit with “Don’ t Make Me Over,” a song penned by Bacharach and David. Her name was printed as “Warwick” on the label, so Warrick adopted the misspelling as her new stage name. Through the 1960s, Warwick’s collaboration with Bacharach and David yielded dozens of top 10 hits. Among their charting songs were “Walk on By” (1964), “I Say a Little Prayer,” (1968), and “Alfie.” Warwick’ s recordings of “Do You Know the Way to San Josefi” (1968) and “I’ll Never Fall in Love” (1970) also won Grammy Awards. Critics and the public agreed that Warwick’s polished and controlled voice made her the perfect interpreter of Bacharach David’s sophisticated pop songs.
In 1972, the team of Bacharach and David broke up, with acrimony on both sides. Warwick, who learned about split from a newspaper article, later described the news as “devastating.” Under contract with Warner Brothers to deliver an album of Bacharach-David songs, Warwick took her former friends to court for breach of contract. At the same time, she was being sued for alimony by her husband Billy Elliott, whom she had married in 1965. The couple had two sons, David and Damon, before divorcing. Creatively, the 1970s were difficult for Warwick. Although she toured constantly, she had only one hit, “Then Came You,” a collaboration with the Spinners. On the advice of an astrologer and numerologist, she briefiy added an e to the end of her last name, but the new billing did little to change her luck.
In 1979, Warwick finally received a career boost when she signed with Arista Records, which later became the label of her cousin, singer WHITNEY HOUSTON. Arista paired her with singer Barry Manilow as her producer. The resulting album, Dionne (1979), produced two Grammy-winning hits, “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and “Deja Vu.” Warwick had less success as the host of Solid Gold, a television countdown of the music charts. Hired in July 1980, she was fired in less a year. Officially, the producers maintained they wanted a younger host, but rumors spread that Warwick had been deemed too difficult to work with. Warwick had another hit album with Heartbreaker (1982), produced by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. But for the rest of the decade, she did her best work for charitable causes. In 1984, she sang with the all-star group USA for Africa on “We Are the World,” whose proceeds were donated to African famine relief. Two years later, Warwick brought together Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Elton John to sing “That’s What Friends Are For.” Going to number one on the charts, the song earned $2 million for AIDS research. It also marked her public reconciliation with Burt Bacharach, who wrote the song with his wife, Carole Bayer Sager.
In the 1990s, Warwick became the spokeswoman for the Psychic Friends Network, a telephone psychic service advertised on a highly successful infomercial. She also continued to record, making some of the most adventurous albums of her career. Among them were Aquarela do Brasil (1994), a collection of Brazilian music, and Friends Can Be Lovers (1993), which included duets with Houston, Luther Vandross, and Lisa Stansfield. A revival of interest in her classic records of the 1960s inspired her to make Dionne on Dionne (1998). With her sons as backup singers, Warwick reinterpreted her earlier work on the album, which included a hip-hop version of “What the World Needs Now” and a salsa-fiavored remake of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose ?”
Year Album Title
1963 Presenting Dionne Warwick
1963 Anyone Who Had a Heart
1964 Make Way for Dionne Warwick
1965 The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick
1966 Here I Am
1966 Dionne Warwick in Paris
1967 Here Where There is Love
1967 On Stage and in the Movies
1967 The Windows of the World
1968 Dionne Warwick in Valley of the Dolls
1968 The Magic of Believing
1969 Dionne Warwick's Greatest Motion Picture Hits
1969 Promises, Promises
1970 I'll Never Fall in Love Again
1970 Very Dionne
1971 The Dionne Warwicke Story: Live
1972 Dionne (1972 Album)
1972 From Within
1973 Just Being Myself
1975 Then Came You
1975 Track of the Cat
1977 A Man and a Woman (w/ Isaac Hayes)
1977 Only Love Can Break a Heart
1977 Love at First Sight
1979 Dionne (1979 Album)
1980 No Night So Long
1981 Hot! Live and Otherwise
1982 Friends In Love
1983 How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye
1985 Finder of Lost Loves
1987 Reservations for Two
1990 Dionne Warwick Sings Cole Porter
1993 Friends Can Be Lovers
1994 Celebration in Vienna ^
1994 Aquarela Do Brazil
1998 Dionne Sings Dionne
2000 Dionne Sings Dionne Vol. 2
2004 My Favorite Time of the Year
2006 My Friends & Me
2008 Why We Sing
“Dionne Warwick.” In Contemporary Black Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
Ebert, Alan. “Dionne on Dionne.” Essence. January 1992, pp. 62+.
Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Dionne Warwick: Her Classic Songs, Vol. 1. Curb, CD, 1997.
Dionne Warwick: Her Classic Songs, Vol. 2. Curb, CD, 1998.
Dionne Warwick: The Definitive Collection. Arista, CD, 1999.