Make way for Dionne Warwick
On Saturday, Jan. 21, Des Moines’ historic Hoyt Sherman Place will celebrate its 100th anniversary season in spectacular fashion, rolling out the red carpet for the six-time Grammy Award-winning hitmaker’s first visit to Iowa. The legendary “Walk on By” singer Dionne Warwick spoke with IPR's Lucius Pham about her music both new and old, the timelessness of Hal David’s lyrics and why she wishes Oreo would just knock it off.
Make way for Dionne Warwick
To an over sixty year career driving American music, what even is a genre? Soul, pop, jazz, R&B –– none do justice to the legendary 82-year-old songstress Dionne Warwick. She is defined simply by that voice.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, Des Moines’ historic Hoyt Sherman Place will celebrate its 100th anniversary season in spectacular fashion, rolling out the red carpet for Dionne Warwick’s very first visit to Iowa.
“It’s my pleasure,” says Warwick. “To be invited to perform in places that people say ‘hey we want you to be here with us too,’ it’s a joy to comply.”
A voice synonymous with love, Warwick is known internationally for classics such as “I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” “Walk on By,” “This Girl’s in Love with You,” “All the Love in the World,” “Make It Easy on Yourself,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” many produced in collaboration with friends composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David.
One of the most-charted vocalists of all time, Warwick began her career working with the likes of Sam Cooke, Ben E. King, Dinah Washington and Ray Charles.
“I was on tour with many, many megastars at that point in my life. I had a hit record called Don’t Make Me Over. It went on, after that, to ‘Walk on By’ and ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ and a few others that hopefully people remember and know. And graduated from those particular tours to world tours. So, you know, it’s kind of difficult capsulize sixty years in ten minutes.”
Shopping at Ragged Records in Davenport, I discovered and purchased a 1970 compilation album called On the Move: apparently part of a CBS-TV special sponsored by Chevrolet. On the back were sleek images of the newest Chevy arrivals, including the 1970 Monte Carlo, Caprice and ‘tough’ Chevelle SS muscle car with two mean black stripes running down the hood. I asked her if this record rang any bells.
“So, you’re really testing my memory aren’t you,” teases Warwick with a laugh. “My goodness. My God, that was so long ago. It was wonderful. [The Dionne Warwick Chevy Special] was my very first special. Chevrolet was the sponsor of it. My guest was Glen Campbell and Burt Bacharach, with orchestra, dancers. It was a wonderful time period in my life.”
During this time, Bacharach and David were some of the most in-demand songbook authors in the world. They often chose Warwick to record demo songs meant for the stage, and wrote many hits with her voice in mind.
“Basically, that was my part of the trio…was to interpret what was written for me to sing,” says Warwick. “All I can say is that Hal David wrote some of the most prolific words for me to sing and Burt wrote the most incredible melodies for me to sing… and it depends upon me to bring that to your listening ears, to have you believe what was being given as the composition. That’s the only explanation I can give you.”
Legendary lyricist Hal David died in September 2012. He was known for penning some of the most classic lines in American music and film, from “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and “This Guy’s In Love With You” to “What’s New Pussycat?” and “The Look of Love.” Warwick wants to make sure David’s contribution to her famous catalog is fairly represented.
“We cannot negate the name David,” says Warwick. “Hal David is probably the most vital part of that trio, because without Hal David’s lyrics we’d all be humming, instead of saying beautiful words to each other. We will never, ever say Bacharach’s name without mentioning Hal David.”
One of my favorite Warwick songs, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” was composed by Bacharach with lyrics by David, originally for the 1968 Broadway musical comedy Promises, Promises, Neil Simon’s stage adaptation of the Billy Wilder film The Apartment. At the tail end of 1969, Warwick released a recording of the song that has become the quintessential rendition.
During our interview, I asked Warwick to dive into David’s lyrics and tell me what in her life inspired her performance on the recording. She was having none of that.
“That had nothing to do with it!” says Warwick. “That song was written specifically for the play Promises, Promises. I recorded it well…after the play was on Broadway. The song has nothing to do with my personal life at all. It has to do with everything Hal David thought to write for that particular part of the play.”
Instead of accepting this answer, I asked more questions about the song’s meaning. She pushed back.
“You know what you’re doing?” Warwick snaps, with a laugh. “You are comparing those lyrics to my personal life, which it has nothing to do with at all. I’m glad it affected you in that way…because that was [a testament] to Hal David’s lyrics.”
The early 70’s marked the end of her time attached to Bacharach and David; she would go on to start her own label, later signing contracts with Warner, Arista and Concord Records.
She’s Back, like she never left
Let’s be clear, Dionne Warwick never went anywhere. Sure, recent stints as the Mouse on FOX’s The Masked Singer and herself on Ego Nwodim’s masterful Saturday Night Live sketch "The Dionne Warwick Talk Show" might suggest some sort of renaissance for the star, but she’s been here. Even early on, stardom was never too far away for the “Alfie” singer.
First appearing on television in the early 60’s alongside her Drinkard-Warwick (actually Warrick) family gospel group The Drinkard Singers, Dionne would occasionally lend her talents to the successful 50’s gospel ensemble, which also happened to be managed by her mother.
Since then, she’s appeared in countless TV concerts on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and American Bandstand, produced late night programming and even tried her hand at reality television. In Hollywood, she contributed her voice to the iconic Valley of the Dolls (1967) soundtrack and was recently featured in Nope (2022).
Dionne Warwick’s sound has translated effortlessly from vinyl to digital. As her classic hits continue to mature, she continues to search for innovative ways of showcasing her voice. “Am I Dreaming (feat. Musiq Soulchild),” the first song off 2019’s album She’s Back, weaves the two vocalists’ iconic voices together in a hypnotic, drum machine-heavy, new-age lullaby, with lyrics:
Am I dreaming? / Am I dreaming?
Am I just imagining you're here in my life?
Am I dreaming?
Am I dreaming? Can't somebody teach me to see
Teach me to see if it's real
'Cause my mind can't decide
In 2014, Dionne Warwick released Feels So Good, an album of duets revisiting some of her greatest songs, and brought together an eclectic group of collaborators, including Ne-Yo, Billy Ray Cyrus, Cyndi Lauper, trumpeter Phil Driscoll, CeeLo Green, Mýa, Ziggy Marley and more. Not unlike the complementary role played by Barry Gibb throughout Warwick’s 1982 hit record Heartbreaker, Jamie Foxx lends his voice to a starry, slow jamz spin on 1979’s “Deja Vu.”
“It was wonderful,” says Warwick. “The mere fact that they all wanted to be a part of the project was very important. And to lend their enormous talents to me and those particular songs that they chose to sing with me, [it] was a joy.”
Next up for Warwick: A lot.
“I’m in the throes of putting together my inspirational CD,” says Warwick. “I’m getting ready to complete my duet with Dolly Parton, which, she wrote a beautiful gospel song and wanted me to be a part of that. I’m getting ready to come to Iowa to see all you guys and do a wonderful concert for you…
“Actually, I’m getting ready to get out of this car and go into my next interview, that’s what I’m getting ready to do,” says Warwick.
The Oreo beef
Dionne Warwick is known for not pulling any punches on Twitter. In October of 2021, @DionneWarwick began putting brands on blast for an obvious oversight. In a video tweet, captioned “If these youngsters can secure brand deals, so can I. Nobody asked for this, but here is my audition tape for @Oreo, @Popeyes, @BushsBeans, and @Hellmanns,” Warwick shared what can only be described as internet gold.
The verified @Oreo account took immediate interest (“We don't even have to watch the audition. We're in.”) which prompted Warwick to publish a string of tweets, one of which ranks among my top five favorite Twitter exchanges:
“Hello, What is your weirdest flavor? Why are ya’ll doing the most? The one flavor was fine.”
In a classic case of things-nobody-asked-for, Warwick was surprised months later to receive a package from Oreo HQ including –– and this is real –– Oreo-shaped lip balm and a package of Java Chip Oreo cookies. She took to Twitter.
“After asking @Oreo to stick to the original flavor, they sent me these outrageous items as a response.”
With seconds left in our interview, I asked the “We Are The World” contributor (after Michael Jackson, before Willie Nelson) whether she ate those coffee-flavored Oreos.
After a laugh and a pause, she replied “No, I didn’t eat ‘em.”
“You know,” says Warwick, “once you are accustomed to a certain taste and look and feel, if it ain’t broke why fix it?”
An Evening With Dionne Warwick
Fans of Dionne Warwick’s classics will be delighted to know that’s exactly what’s on the menu for her Jan. 21 engagement.
“I’m doing the songs that people expect me to sing, of course,” says Warwick. “And the songs are the reason that I am coming to you to do this concert. I’ve been very, very blessed and fortunate that people have been very loyal and have been responsive to what I do musically. I’m just very, very happy that people are cognizant of the work that I’ve done musically and are still enjoying it.”
The Soul Train Legend Award-honored singer will be visiting Des Moines on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, for An Evening With Dionne Warwick at Hoyt Sherman Place. Tickets available at hoytsherman.org.