I looked up from sending a text message to see her standing there. I said “Good Morning” and she greeted me back as she walked by.
This very ordinary exchange happened last month as I stood in the vestibule of the world famous Apollo Theater, the place “where stars are born and legends are made.” One of those legends, Ms. Dionne Warwick, casually walked in to begin her press conference.
Dionne was there to celebrate her 50th Anniversary in show business with the release of her autobiography, My Life, As I See It.
With an effortless grace, Dionne made her way around the room. She spoke to a group of high school students, asking each one his plans for the future. She patiently listened to people trying to pitch ideas. She posed for photographs, signed some books and of course talked about the book and took some questions. With relative ease and a keen understanding of what she came there to do, she kept it moving. Before you knew it, the press conference was over and you were left wondering how she managed to cover so much ground in such a short period of time.
Reading her autobiography will leave you with the same feeling.
Dionne, who wrote the book with her business partner David Freeman Wooley, had a daunting task at hand. How does one talk about fifty years of show business and sixty-nine years of life without overwhelming the reader? This book could have easily been 500 or 600 pages. However, the entire book, including photo pages, acknowledgements and even the index comes in under 300 pages.
While they are to be commended for conciseness, that is also part of the book’s problem. It is a bit too concise, often at the expense of expressing emotion. Even when Dionne’s pen reflects on truly personal matters, like getting a divorce after only three days of marriage, the reader is left with no real insight about them. In this instance, Dionne tells us about the marriage, “I just woke up and knew I had made a huge mistake.” How did she know? We’ll never know, at least not in this book.
Perhaps unwittingly, Dionne offers an explanation for this. In the very first chapter she shares, “Mommy expressed the importance of being a ‘lady’ at all times in the ways we dressed, walked, spoke and presented ourselves. I sure hope that I have maintained the legacy she gave us.” So if the book doesn’t exactly boil over with emotion, maybe it’s because, at the end of the day, Dionne is still a “lady”. But wait a minute! A lady can still get upset. And Dionne is from North New Jersey after all, so we already know she is nobody’s push over. When Burt Bacharach and Hal David reneged on a promise to give her a song, she confronted them with a “burst of anger and frustration” and told them not to make her over or “in other words, don’t lie to me or tell me one thing and do something else.” That confrontation inspired them to write one of her signature songs, “Don’t Make Me Over”.
A similar burst was bestowed upon the manager of another well known singer, who came back stage to criticize her show and to Stevie Wonder, who dared to show up 12 hours late to a recording session. But the shoe was on the other foot when a young Mary J. Blige gave Dionne an earful for suggesting a wardrobe change during an awards show rehearsal.
Dionne recalls all of these unpleasant moments (and those I didn’t mention) without reverting to the foul language I’m certain was used at the time. Once again, a lady doesn’t talk about talking like that. :)
Many fans will enjoy the “fast pace” of the book because it allows Dionne to touch on almost all of the highs, lows and unusual parts of her career.
She talks about everything from winning “Amateur Night” at the Apollo to the Bacharach/David sessions, to her television work as host of “Solid Gold”, “The Soul Train Awards” and yes, even “The Psychic Friends Network”. And personally, I would like to thank her for talking about why she added an extra “e” onto her surname for a period of time. For many years people never believed me when I told them she was once “Dionne Warwicke”…with the extra “e” on the end.
Fans seeking a glimpse into the history and the life of a living legend, who is still inspiring other performers, will not be disappointed. Those desiring a more “tell all” tale may be disappointed that Dionne only tells a little about a lot.
Nevertheless, overall it is an enjoyable and easy read.
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a US East Coast contributor who served as an Entertainment Editor for the now-defunct New Jersey publication, The Nubian News. He is actively involved in children's charities and sings in an all-male chorus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report (www.TheMeyersMusicReport.Tumblr.com). Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for SoulMusic.com. When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on JazzOn2.org and iTunes.