Name originally Marie Dionne Warrick; born December 12, 1941, in East Orange, N.J.; daughter of Mancel (a butcher) and Lee (manager of a gospel group) Warrick; married Bill Elliott, 1967 (divorced, 1975); children: David, Damion. Education: Attended Hartt College of Music, Hartford, Conn. Addresses: Office --c/o 6464 Sunset Blvd., #1030, Hollywood, CA 90028.

The elegant Dionne Warwick was one of the first black recording artists to reach a mainstream pop audience that knew no racial or ethnic barriers. In the late 1960s Warwick sold a phenomenal twelve million albums and placed numerous singles in the Top Ten as the result of her association with quirky songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. During those years, writes People magazine correspondent Rich Wiseman, Warwick was "a red-hot singer of cold-hearted hits spanning pop, jazz and R&B." Indeed, Warwick's voice and manner were ideally suited to the sometimes coy, sometimes plaintive Bacharach-David tunes, and her work independent of that team has followed the same formula.

A Newsweek reporter describes Warwick's style as "deliciously phrased, uncontrived and in a polished, flexible voice that [is] deep purple below and sky-blue above ... a dazzling acrobatic display of vocal weightlessness, changing colors and dynamics with chilling impact." The reporter adds, "Cushioning all her songs is an uncanny rhythmic sense.... Her body pulsates and twitches, and her voice seems somehow to swing to its own built-in rhythm section. Her songs become dramatic monologues, building tensions until the wild finish." In the Washington Post, William Rice makes a similar observation. According to Rice, Warwick "can produce the impression of a 'soul singer's scream' without raising her voice and so practiced is her vocal control and her technical mastery that she glides from a gospel chant to a torchsinger's moan with disarming ease."

It should come as no surprise that Warwick has perfected the gospel sound. She began her professional career as a gospel singer, working with the well-known Drinkard Singers and with her own group, the Gospelaires. Ironically, Warwick has claimed that she did not want to go into show business at all; instead, she wanted to teach music to schoolchildren. Warwick was born Marie Dionne Warrick in the comfortable middle-class community of Orange, New Jersey. Her mother, Lee, managed the Drinkard Singers from a base at the New Hope Baptist Church in nearby Newark, and as a teenager Dionne was often called in as a substitute singer when a regular group member was missing. Warwick was also in her teens when she formed the Gospelaires with her sister Dee Dee and two cousins. Gospel, she told Newsweek, "is the Bible in the form of song. It's open prayer. Religion gives me comfort and complete freedom."

Warwick attended Hartt College of Music on a scholarship, studying piano, voice, and music theory. Between terms she worked as a backup singer for Sam ("the Man") Taylor and the Drifters, among others. In 1959 Warwick was working on a Drifters recording when she caught the eye of Burt Bacharach, then a relatively unknown composer. "She was singing louder than everybody else," Bacharach told Ebony, "so I couldn't help noticing her. Not only was she clearly audible, but Dionne 'had something.' Just the way she carries herself, the way she works, her flow and feeling for the music--it was there when I first met her. She had, and still has, a kind of elegance, a grace that very few other people have." Bacharach and his partner, Hal David, invited Warwick to record some of their songs on demonstration records, and by 1961 the pretty young singer had signed a contract with Scepter Records. She had her first hit, "Don't Make Me Over," the following year. When the record company misspelled her name on a label, Marie Dionne Warrick became Dionne Warwick, and her fortunes began to rise.

"I came along in an era when kids were tired of hearing songs that just said, 'Boo-boo-boo,'" Warwick told the New York Times. "I had a different kind of sound that was accepted by both the R&B audience and the pop audience." Young and old, white and black listeners alike responded to Warwick's gentle songs--and two decades have hardly dimmed the appeal of "Walk On By," "Alfie," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." In four years the entertainer sold twelve million records and made the Top Forty charts thirty-one times. She also gave solo concerts in Europe and at New York's prestigious Philharmonic Hall in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. "Show business," Warwick told People, "became my life."

Pop careers are notoriously fragile, as Warwick discovered in 1975. First, Bacharach and David dissolved their partnership, leaving Warwick with a five-record contract to fulfill. Then her marriage fell apart, and her husband sued for alimony. Warwick found herself immersed in legal battles with her former spouse and with Bacharach and David, whom she sued for breach of contract. She managed to release the contracted albums as planned, but as Wiseman notes, the efforts "bombed her into obscurity." She was rescued from the slump by Barry Manilow, who produced her 1979 gold album, Dionne. The album contained two hit singles, "I'll Never Love This Way Again" and the mysterious "Deja Vu."

On the strength of that comeback, Warwick was invited to host a weekly syndicated music show, "Solid Gold." She worked on the show for a year, eventually parting on bad terms with its producers. Answering charges that she had been "temperamental" during filming, Warwick told Ebony, "I'm a perfectionist. I won't stand for less than the best.... What's wrong with that?" Warwick returned to recording, this time working with ex-Bee Gee Barry Gibb. Her 1983 release, Heartbreaker, was yet another million seller.

More recently, Warwick lent her voice to a project to benefit AIDS research, producing the hit single "That's What Friends Are For." She claims that her career was salvaged by a 1979 move to Arista Records. "Now, once again, everything is being done absolutely for me, " she told Rolling Stone. "There's no overshadowing. I'm sitting on top of everything, which is the way it should be." The mother of two sons, Warwick lives in a Beverly Hills mansion. She rarely socializes with the Hollywood "party crowd," preferring a degree of discretion in her personal life. After more than two decades as a top performer, Warwick feels secure in her ability and confident about her future. "Talent will prevail," she told People. "Nobody, bar none, can do what Dionne Warwick does."

by Anne Janette Johnson

Dionne Warwick's Career

Gospel singer and organist with the Gospelaires and the Drinkard Singers, 1955-60; solo performer, 1960--. Signed with Scepter Records, 1961; released first hit single, "Don't Make Me Over," 1962. Had string of hit singles written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, including "Walk On By," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" "What the World Needs Now (Is Love Sweet Love)," "Message to Michael," and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." Signed with Arista Records, 1979, produced hits "I'll Never Love This Way Again," "Deja Vu," and "Heartbreaker." With Stevie Wonder, recorded "That's What Friends Are For," 1986, to benefit medical research on AIDS. Has made numerous television and film appearances, including "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Red Skelton Show," "Solid Gold" (host, 1981), and "A Gift of Music." Star of "The Dionne Warwick Special."

Dionne Warwick's Awards

Recipient of Grammy Awards for best female vocal performance, 1969, 1970, and 1980.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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