Over an illustrious career that has spanned four decades, Dionne Warwick has established herself as an international household name. Her reputation as a hitmaker has been firmly etched into public consciousness, thanks to the nearly sixty records that have made the charts since "Don't Make Me Over" began its climb up the charts in December 1962. As a performer, she has charmed and entertained audiences quite literally on every continent, amassing an audience worldwide. And while she has been the subject of countless cover stories and feature articles, there are a few important ‘firsts' that make Dionne Warwick a true pioneer.
You may not know that as the recipient of her first of five Grammy Awards in 1968 (for the classic "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?"), Dionne became the first African-American solo female artist of her generation to win the prestigious award for "Best Contemporary Female Vocal Peformance" a feat only previously accomplished by one of her own African-American musical she-roes, the late Ella Fitzgerald.
Other African-American female recording artists certainly racked up their share of crossover pop and R&B hits on the ‘60s but Dionne Warwick was the first such artist to rack up a dozen consecutive Top 100 hit singles from 1963 to 1966, preceeding the mainstream success of some of her musical peers.
By making her debut performance - and introduced by the legendary Marlene Dietrich - at The Olympia Theater in Paris in 1963, Dionne also became the first African-American female pop and soul singer to achieve international stardom. As she was establishing herself as a major force in American contemporary music, she was simultaneously winning over audiences throughout Europe with early hits like "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and "Walk On By." She was also the first African-American female performer to appear before The Queen Of England at The Royal Command Performance in 1968 and since that time, Dionne has performed before numerous kings, queens, presidents and heads of state the world over.
Her recordings of songs like "A House Is Not A Home," "Alfie," "(Theme From) The Valley Of The Dolls" and "The April Fools" also made Dionne Warwick a pioneer as one of the first female artists to popularize classic movie themes. And, as all diehard Warwick fans know, Dionne made her own film debut in 1968 in the movie "Slaves" making her the first contemporary African-American female recording artist to do so, once again following in the footsteps of one of her she-roes, the inimitable Lena Horne.
In recent years, Dionne's pioneering efforts have focused on leading the music industry in the fight against AIDS: her Grammy-winning, chartopping single "That's What Friends Are For" was the tip of the iceberg, raising literally millions of dollars for AIDS research. Throughout the world, Dionne has devoted countless hours to a wide range of humanitarian causes, serving as the U.S. Ambassador for Health throughout the Eighties and on October 16, 2002, she was named a global Ambassador for the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy. Continuing her work as a socially conscious and concerned global citizen in the Nineties, Dionne spearheaded the long overdue development and production of a history book that will finally detail African and African-American history for use in schools, libraries and bookstores throughout the world.
Captivating audiences with music tailor-made for her unique, distinctive vocal style is something that Dionne Warwick has been doing since Burt Bacharach first heard back in 1960. Dionne began singing during her childhood years in East Orange, New Jersey initially in church and occasionally a soloist and fill-in voice for the renowned Drinkard Singers, which consisted of her mother Lee and her aunts and uncles. During her teens, Dionne and sister Dee Dee started their own gospel group, The Gospelaires and it was while visiting The Drinkard Singers at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem that Dionne was asked to sing on a background session for saxophonist Sam ‘The Man' Taylor. Some thirty-eight years later, The Apollo Theater paid tribute to Dionne in a special event in February 1998 noting her constant support for the venue and her work as a musical trailblazer.
While attending The Hartt College Of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, Dionne began making trips to do regular session work in New York, singing behind many of the biggest stars of the ‘60s including Dinah Washington, Brook Benton, Chuck Jackson and Solomon Burke, to name a few. Once composer, arranger and producer Bacharach heard her while doing a session for The Drifters, he asked her to sing on demos of songs he was writing with new partner Hal David. In 1962, Bacharach & David presented one such demo to Scepter Records: the label president Florence Greenberg did not want the song but wanted the voice and Dionne began a hit-filled twelve-year association with the New York label.
In all, Dionne, Burt & Hal racked up thirty hit singles and close to twenty best-selling albums during their first decade of gold. Songs like "Do You Know The Way To San Jose," "Message To Michael," "This Girl's In Love With You," "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" and "Reach Out For Me" established Dionne Warwick as a consummate artist and performer. Known as the artist who ‘bridged the gap," Dionne's music transcended race, culture and musical boundaries, a soulful blend of pop, gospel and R&B.
In 1970, Dionne received her second Grammy Award for the best-selling album I'll Never Fall In Love Again and she began her second decade of hits by signing with Warner Brothers Records. Working with top producers like Thom Bell, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Jerry Ragavoy, Steve Barri and Michael Omartian, Dionne recorded half-a-dozen albums. In 1974, she hit the top of the charts for the first time with "Then Came You," a million-selling duet with The Spinners and three years later, she teamed up with Isaac Hayes for the highly successful "A Man And A Woman" world tour.
In 1978, fresh from earning a Master's Degree in Music from her alma mater (The Hartt College of Music), Dionne signed with Arista Records, beginning a third decade of hitmaking with the album Dionne. Produced by labelmate Barry Manilow, the album included back-to-back hits "I'll Never Love This Way Again" and "Déjà Vu," which both earned Grammy Awards, making Dionne the first female artist to win both Best Female Pop and Best Female R&B Performance Awards, and giving her a first platinum album. Hot on the heels of her renewed success, Dionne began her first stint as host for the highly successful television show "Solid Gold."
Dionne's tenure with Arista was marked by further milestones: her 1982 album Heartbreaker, co-produced by Barry Gibb and The Bee Gees became an international chartopper; and in 1985, Dionne reunited with producer Burt Bacharach and teamed up with longtime friends Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Elton John to record the classic "That's What Friends Are For," with profits donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR). In 1990, she joined forces with a number of her Arista labelmates to raise over $2.5 million for various AIDS organizations at the star-studded "That's What Friends Are For" benefit at New York's Radio City Music Hall.
Dionne's album Friends achieved gold status and throughout the Eighties, Dionne collaborated with many of her musical peers including Johnny Mathis, Smokey Robinson, Luther Vandross and others. Working with Stevie Wonder, Dionne was the music coordinator for the film and Academy Award winning soundtrack album The Woman In Red. She was one of the key participants in the all-star charity single "We Are The World" and performed at "Live Aid" in 1984.
In addition to co-hosting and helping to launch "The Soul Train Music Awards", she also starred in her own show, "Dionne And Friends" and was co-executive producer of "Celebrate The Soul Of American Music" giving honor and recognition to many of her fellow musical pioneers. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, Dionne has toured extensively with Burt Bacharach, winning rave reviews from fans and press alike for a show that reinforces the timeless musical legacy the team of Bacharach, David & Warwick created. Her recent musical achievements have included performances as part of the "National Symphony With The Divas," and in Tokyo, with The National Opera Company of Japan - yes, Dionne even sings classical music.
Known for her entrepreneurial spirit, Dionne's recent activities have included the creation of Carr/Todd/Warwick Productions Inc., geared to produce television and film projects and, for the past fifteen years, the Dionne Warwick Design Group, Inc. With partner Bruce Garrick, Dionne has been responsible for creating numerous international projects ranging from private estates to world class hotels which she notes are "all affordable!" In 2002, Dionne was featured on the Home & Garden Network showing the Palm Desert home she and partner Bruce designed.
One of Dionne's special projects has been the design of her own home in Brazil, where she now resides, dividing her time equally between Brazil and the U.S.A. Showcasing her long-term love affair with the people and music of Brazil, Dionne's final album for Arista was the critically-acclaimed Aquarela Do Brasil (Watercolors Of Brazil), released in 1994.
The recipient of countless awards, Dionne's status as a musical icon and humanitarian is legendary. With her own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, she continues to work tirelessly with various organizations dedicated to empowering and inspiring others: in 1997, she was awarded the ‘Luminary Award' by the American Society of Young Musicians and the same year, she joined General Colin Powell in celebrating the tenth anniversary of the "Best Friends" Program, an abstinence and character-building program for young women. It came as no surprise to her friends and family that Dionne's alma mater, the Lincoln Elementary School in East Orange, New Jersey honored her by renaming it "The Dionne Warwick Institute of Economics and Entrepreneurship."
In early 1998, Dionne was given the Chairman's Award for Sustained Creative Achievement by NARM (The National Association of Record Merchandisers) and in November 2001, she was named "History Maker" by The History Makers Organization in Chicago. In the spring of 2002, she was honored by the American Red Ribbon AIDS Foundation; in December, she was honored by The Recording Academy with 2002 New York Chapter's Heroes Award.
As she looks forward to another decade of great music, Dionne Warwick says she still has some personal goals. "As I've said over the years, I still want the Tony, Oscar and Emmy! " she smiles graciously. As a woman who has inspired and empowered millions through her music, through her performances and through her work as a humanitarian, nothing seems impossible for Dionne. With a warm smile, she reflects that she's always remembered the words of wisdom imparted by her grandfather who told her many years ago, "If you can think it, you can do it!" With a life filled with accomplishment and achievement, Dionne Warwick can proudly say she has and will continue adhere to this wisdom.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.