Monday, January 24, 2011

FOCUS ON: DIONNE WARWICK


It would be easy to simply classify Dionne Warwick as a just a pop singer but that would be completely inaccurate. She transformed seemingly simple songs and elevated them with that sultry alto and infused them with sass, style, and class but most importantly, passionate soul. As a performer, she was subtle and low-key but that didn't make her any less of a powerfully, dynamic entertainer. Dionne Warwick, with the invaluable assistance of composers, Hal David and Burt Bacharach, best represented the pop sound of the 1960's

She was born Marie Dionne Warrick in 1940 and raised in East Orange, New Jersey. Her family was heavily involved in the music industry as her father, Mancel Warrick was a gospel record promoter for Chess Records and her mother, Lee Drinkard Warrick was the manager of her family gospel act, The Drinkard Singers (which included Lee's sister, Emily or "Cissy", who later became the mother of Whitney Houston).

It was inevitable that Dionne would begin singing and she performed her first solo at the age of six in church as well as occasionally performing with the Drinkard Singers.

In 1958, Dionne formed a gospel group called The Gospelaires with Myrna Utle, Carol Slade and Warrick's younger sister, Delia who would later become professionally known as "Dee Dee" Warwick. They first performed at the famous Apollo Theater and won the weekly contest. Various singers came and went including Cissy Houston and Doris Troy, who had a solo hit in 1963 with "Just One Look" that featured the group on background vocals. The Gospelaires would eventually evolve into The Sweet Inspiration and would become much sought after background singers, most notably for Elvis Presley.

While recording background vocals for The Drifters's song, "Mexican Divorce (Single/LP Version)", the composer, Burt Bacharach was impressed by Dionne's voice and her presence and asked if she was interested in doing some demos to be used to pitch the songs to record labels. Florence Greenberg, president of Spector Records heard the demos but was much more excited about signing the girl who was singing them.

Dionne released her first single, "Don't Make Me Over" in 1962 and it became a top forty hit as well as reaching the top five on the r&b charts. Dionne Warrick became "Warwick" when her single had her name misspelled and she decided to keep it. With the help of Mr. Bacharach and his writing partner, Hal David, she would go on to have many other popular, chart-topping hits throughout the rest of the sixties, including "Anyone Who Had A Heart", "I Say A Little Prayer", "Do You Know The Way To San Jose" and "Walk On By" which would become her signature song.

By 1971, Dionne left Spector and signed with Warner Bros. Records for five million dollars which, at the time, was the most ever received by a female recording artist. However, her reliable writers and producers, David and Bacharach had a falling out and ended their partnership. So Dionne was forced to work with a variety of other producers which led to five unsuccessful albums, most likely due to the fact that they didn't know how to properly use Ms Warwick. The only significant hit she had during this period was, "Then Came You (Remastered LP Version)", a duet with The Spinners in 1974 that actually became Dionne's first number one pop song.

Her contract with Warner Bros. ended in 1977 and was not renewed. Frustrated and ready to leave the music business, Dionne received an offer from Clive Davis to join his label, Arista Records. Her first album was simply titled, "Dionne" and was released in 1979. The first single, "I'll Never Love This Way Again", which was produced by Barry Manilow, returned Dionne back to the top ten, reaching number five on the charts. The next single, "Deja Vu", co-written by Issac Hayes, also became a hit. She would go on to win two Grammy Awards that year for both songs.

Her next albums on Arista were best sellers due to Clive Davis cleverly teaming Dionne up with top producers who could properly guide her music including Barry Gibb, Luther Vandross (a huge fan) as well as reuniting her with Burt Bacharach. He also had her perform musical collaborations with other artists who respected and admired her such as Jeffrey Osborne, Johnny Mathis and the team of Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John for the number one smash hit, "That's What Friends Are For", a charity single which the proceeds went to benefit AIDS research.

In 1980, Dionne was approached to host a television special called, "Solid Gold "79" which counted down the top fifty hits of that year. In the fall of that year, "Solid Gold" became a weekly series in which she hosted the first season and would later return to host another season in 1985.

Dionne Warwick has completed thirty-five albums to date and she is, second only to Aretha Franklin, the most charted female vocalist with 56 songs hitting the Billboard Hot 100 from 1962 and 1998.

Dionne married actor, William Elliott in 1966 but they divorced less than a year later. The couple reconciled and remarried in 1967 before divorcing again in 1975. They had two children who have followed in the family musical tradition; David is a singer/songwriter and Damon is a music producer.

Here are a few of Ms Warwick's greatest hits:

Anyone Who Had a Heart (1963)

I Say A Little Prayer (1967)

Are You There (With Another Girl)? (1965)

I'll Never Love This Way Again (1979)

Heartbreaker (1982)

This is Dionne and her famous friends performing "That's What Friends Are For" in 1985:

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK

I can't believe it but it's been forty years since " Best of My Love " by The Emotions landed at number one on the pop...