December 12, 1940 – Dionne Warwick:
“I’d like to see a world free of strife, stress, pain, hunger, war – a cool place where everyone could live.”
Even in the 1970s, I heard rumors that Dionne Warwick might be gay. She had a lesbian manager that went everywhere with her, plus she never remarried after divorcing her husband twice in 1975, in fact, she has never been linked romantically to a man in the past 45 years. I do know that Warwick has been an outspoken ally for LGBTQ people. In the early 1980s when very few celebrities spoke out in support of people suffering from the new plague, Warwick was there with support, raising money and awareness.
In 1985, she put together a group of Pop Music icons, including Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John to record That’s What Friends Are For by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager. The song was first recorded in 1982 by Rod Stewart for the soundtrack of the film Night Shift, but Warwick’s recording, under the name Dionne & Friends, was released as a single with proceeds going for HIV/AIDS research. It was a massive hit, the Number One single of 1986. The record won Grammy Awards for Best Pop Performance and Song of the Year. Its sales raised over three million dollars.
In 1990, a benefit titled That’s What Friends Are For: Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert was held at Radio City Music Hall. CBS aired a two-hour version of the concert with Arista’s Clive Davis, and 25 celebs. That’s What Friends Are For was the finale, sung by Warwick and her cousin Whitney Houston before being joined on the stage by the other guests. Another three million dollars was raised that night.
Scintillating, smooth and sensual, Warwick’s voice has been a favorite of mine for more than 50 years. She has won five Grammy Awards, had 80 songs on the Pop Charts and sold over 100 million records. She is second only to Aretha Franklin as the most-charted female vocalist of all time.
Warwick’s career began in 1961 after being discovered by the young songwriting team, Bacharach and Hal David. Her first hit was Don’t Make Me Over in 1962. In the 1960s, she released 18 Top 10 singles, including her classic versions of Bacharach/David’s, Walk On By, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Message To Michael, Promises Promises, A House Is Not A Home, Alfie, Say A Little Prayer, This Girl’s In Love With You, and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. Warwick, Bacharach and David had 35 hit singles, and 20 best-selling albums, during their first decade as a team. They had 12 consecutive Top 10 hit singles just from 1963-1966.
Warwick received her first Grammy in 1968 for the Bacharach/David mega-hit, Do You Know The Way To San Jose? and a second in 1970 for her album, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again. She was the first African-American artist to win for Best Contemporary Female Vocalist Performance.
In 1968, she became the first solo African-American to sing before the Queen Elizabeth II at a Royal Command Performance. Since then, Warwick has performed before lots of queens.
Warwick began singing in church as a member of The Drinkard Singers, a group comprised of her mother Lee, along with her aunts, including Cissy Houston. During her teens, Warwick and her sister Dee Dee Warwick started their own gospel group, The Gospelaires.
Warwick attended The Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. While going to school, she traveled to NYC to do session work. She sang backup for Dinah Washington among others. Bacharach heard her sing during a session for The Drifters and asked her to sing on demos for songs he was writing with his new lyricist, Hal David.
After a string of hits with Bacharach/David, I Say A Little Prayer in 1967 became her biggest seller. Then there was (Theme From) Valley Of The Dolls, which was unusual because it was not written by Bacharach/ David, and it was the “B” side of I Say A Little Prayer, plus it was a song that she almost didn’t record. While Valley Of The Dolls was being filmed, actor Barbara Parkins suggested to the producers that Warwick sing the film’s theme song, written by André and Dory Previn. The song was to be recorded by Judy Garland, who had been fired from the film. Warwick recorded the song, and when the film became a success in the early weeks of 1968, disc jockeys flipped the single and made it one of the biggest double-sided hits of the 1960s.
Warwick had re-recorded her version of the theme at A&R Studios because contractual restrictions with her label would not allow the Warwick version from the film to be included on the 20th Century Fox soundtrack album, and reverse legal restrictions would not allow the film version to be used anyplace else. Got that? It reached Number Five and would remain on the Pop charts for over a year. The film soundtrack album, without Warwick vocals, tanked while the Warwick version went platinum.
And, because there is no such thing as too much Jacqueline Susann, Warwick also appears on the soundtrack for The Love Machine (in which she also has an uncredited cameo), released in July 1971.
In 1972, Bacharach and David scored and wrote the tunes for the musical film version of Lost Horizon. The film was a colossal flop, and in the fallout, Bacharach and David bitterly ended their songwriting partnership. Warwick, who relied almost exclusively on the team to write and produce her records, was left high and dry. She learned about the breakup by reading about it in the newspapers. Faced with a lawsuit by Warner Bros. due to the breakup of Bacharach/David and their failure to honor their contract with Warwick, she filed a $5.5 million lawsuit against the songwriters for breach of contract. The suit was settled out of court in 1979 for $5 million, including the rights to all her recordings produced by Bacharach and David.
Warwick and Bacharach suffered career setbacks because of the feud. Warwick did not have another hit until 1979, and Bacharach floundered until he started a new partnership with Carole Bayer Sager.
Television producer Aaron Spelling, commissioned Bacharach/Sager to write a theme song for his short-lived 1983 series, Finders Of Lost Loves. Spelling suggested that Warwick sing the song, Bacharach agreed and made the phone call that ended their feud. Bacharach continued to bring new songs to Warwick. One song from the next batch he showed her was That’s What Friends Are For.
Other singers and songwriters have had successful lengthy professional relationships, yet none have quite had the oddly perfect chemistry as Warwick, with her gospel background, and Bacharach, who trained as both a classical and jazz musician. In some mysterious way, his melodies bring out a richness and urgency in her voice, and Warwick gives his melodies a blend of elegance and soul.
The Bacharach/David feud is not the only one with Warwick that might catch the interest of Ryan Murphy for future series. Earlier this year, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, reignited one of music’s oldest feuds.
“Dionne blatantly lied on me, fully well knowing what she was doing.”
In 2012, at the funeral of Whitney Houston, Warwick had told the mourners:
“Aretha is not here, but I am here. I love Whitney as if she was born to me. I am her godmother.”
Franklin found the comment “libelous”:
“We’ve never been friends, and I don’t think that Dionne has ever liked me.”
The two divas’ feud goes back to the 1960s, when both were enjoying their initial successes. Apparently, Franklin let Warwick know just who was queen by covering Warwick’s 1967 hit I Say a Little Prayer. To make matters worse, Franklin hired Cissy Houston, Warwick’s aunt, to sing backup. Franklin’s soulful version was released a year after Warwick’s elegant take, and it went to Number One on the Pop and R&B charts.
Plus, Bacharach, who had written I Say A Little Prayer for Warwick, stated that Franklin’’ version was ‘“Much better than the cut I did with Dionne”.
In the late 1970s, Franklin had been without a hit for years. Clive Davis, who had guided the careers of Janis Joplin and Carly Simon, signed Franklin to his Arista Records and he handled her big comeback with the 1985 platinum album Who’s Zoomin’ Who? But, uh-oh, Warwick was also at Arista.
Franklin was back on top, but then Davis signed Whitney Houston. She was two decades younger than Franklin, and she was gorgeous and had that killer voice… and she was Warwick’s cousin.
“There had been so much going on around Houston, around the drugs, around her and Bobby supposed to be fighting, I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
In April, Franklin encountered Warwick at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the documentary Clive Davis: The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. Warwick attempted to speak with Franklin, but was dismissed. Franklin:
“She said, ‘Give me a hug’, and I said, ‘Oh, hell no. You can’t be serious’.”
I realize that an entire generation knows Warwick from hosting those damn infomercials for the Psychic Friends Network, which ran for most of the 1990s. They were most successful infomercials in history and Warwick earned three million dollars per year as spokesperson. Warwick was once at LAX and a child recognized her as “that psychic lady on TV”. Warwick wrote that she was crushed and had worked too hard as an entertainer to become known as “that psychic lady”.
Warwick spent spring 2019 with a Las Vegas residency at Bally’s and she released a new studio album this year, titled She’s Back.