19:43 EST, 18 October 2012
19:44 EST, 18 October 2012
Dionne Warwick’s songs were the emotional soundtrack of the 1960s.
Her smooth, heartfelt voice was the conduit for a stream of immensely moving pop classics by the songwriting team of Hal David and Burt Bacharach.
They ranged from Anyone Who Had A Heart to Say A Little Prayer For Me and Don’t Make Me Over. No wonder she said it was just like losing a member of the family when Hal David died last month.
‘It had been almost like a marriage between three people. We all cared for each other very much – true friendship stands the test of time’.
Testing times: Dionne Warwick admits 2012 has been a tough year for the family
Now, she has updated and re-recorded an album of her most treasured hits.
The voice is older, perhaps wiser. More cigarette-soaked. The songs are drenched now in irony, stripped of hope and all the more powerful, and I wonder if she feels the songs speak in a different way.
She looks at me intently before answering any questions, constantly trying to size everything up.
‘I think I have made them grow up’, she says.
‘The lyrics have taken on another vernacular, and I’ve sent them in a different direction with a mature attitude and more modern arrangements.’
Perhaps, with hindsight, the first time round the songs sounded hopeful and naïve, I suggest.
‘It’s part of a growing up we all go through. Now I can put more meaning into them and youngsters of today will grasp them because of the new arrangements. I don’t think I’ve changed that much.’
When Burt Bacharach discovered her
singing with her sister Dee Dee in a group called The Gospelaires it was
always Dionne who stood out, with a voice that was pure emotional
velvet. She has never lost that
it’s a matter of using what I’ve learnt and witnessed over the years’,
she tells me now. ‘I’m 71 and I feel the age that I am, I’ve lived every
single year of my life. I can’t forget.’
Sixties sensation: A young Dionne in 1961
This year she says has been ‘very tacky’. An interesting word to use when she’s experienced the death of her cousin Whitney Houston and her nephew a few weeks ago who was only 24.
Away from the microphone, Warwick likes to underplay her own feelings and hates to be drilled about them. It’s as if she saves all her emotion for her songs, while in real life she likes to rein it all in.
She is very practiced at giving the impression that her emotions are completely under wraps, but as we talk she reveals momentarily a chink in her psychological armour.
‘This year I’ve cried a lot. Crying is cleansing. There’s a reason for tears, happiness or sadness. Of course I cried at Whitney’s funeral and I cried at my nephew’s funeral. Imagine, he contacted a virus and he couldn’t get rid of it.
‘This has been a terrible year. It was quite unexpected.’ But, suddenly pulling herself together, she says she’d really rather not talk about it.
And Whitney too? Houston died in February this year aged 48, drowning in the bath of her hotel room in Los Angeles while a Grammy party roared beneath. Her life in recent years had been messy.
She had been in and out of rehab, on and off drugs, but there was a serious attempt to rebuild her life and she stars posthumously in the movie Sparkle about a black girl group. She was trying to re-establish her acting career.
There’s an uncomfortable pause. ‘No, it was quite unexpected.’ ‘She lived her life and it got to the point where it was time for her to make her transition. She had accomplished what God had put her here to do, that’s the way I feel.’
One can’t help believing this is a line she has rehearsed. Not necessarily because she doesn’t feel the pain but because she is too dignified to want to spill it in public. For all her initial frostiness there is a sweetness to her. She’s done much good work in her life, campaigning to end world hunger and for AIDS charities.
Next weekend she takes part in Radio 2’s live Children In Need broadcast.
If something stresses her she cuts
off from it. Life in Los Angeles began to stress her so she moved to
Brazil. Although she still has a home back in the States, in New
Jersey. She feels that Brazil is important to her spirit.
first came to Brazil in the Sixties. Then I started coming back every
year since touring most of the country. I grew to love it, the people,
the music. I thought this is where I belong. I’ve been living in Brazil
for the past 23 years. I call it my stress-free country.
‘I like Brazilians and I like their values. They believe in family. The music for me is paradise. I think it’s where God lives.’
God is very important to her, as is shopping.
a shopper. My mainstay is shopping. I like going down to Givenchy and
the boutiques. I have bought a lot of beautiful clothes with my money,
but I’ve also earned it’.
likes to shop wherever she is in the world. It’s a way of de-stressing.
‘I don’t shop for what I need, just what I want. When it comes to my
skills as a parent, I think the proof is in the pudding – two incredible
sons and six grandchildren’.
Walk On By: Dionne’s career has spanned six decades
Warwick is a woman who likes to have it all and feels she deserves it. She is a legend, and she knows it. She has a truly wonderful voice, yet she smokes menthol lights. ‘I still smoke and I have no desire to give it up,’ she says defiantly.
She sleeps for only four or five hours a night and seems constantly on the go with tours and performances. How does she get her energy? ‘I get it on stage. I have a lot of energy during the course of the show. I eat what I want and I go where I want and I catch up on my sleep on planes. I’m not into exercise at all.
‘I eat everything that my mother put in my mouth when I was a girl. There’s nothing I don’t eat except shellfish. I’m not a drinker. I don’t like alcohol. I drink Pepsi because I don’t like the weird smell.’
I suspect she also wouldn’t like the loss of control. Her diet and smoking confounds medical science. She is certainly a force. Perhaps she sees herself as this strong powerhouse.
‘I’m steady, I know who I am. I’ve a lot thrown on me and I deal with it. That’s life, isn’t it.’
Growing up in the Forties and Fifties, and becoming one of the first black über songstresses must have been really difficult. There must have been lots of prejudice to deal with. In those days women were told what to do, so how did she hold her own?
Music veteran: Dionne at the CHEVY Shot Caller’s Dinner in New York last week
‘If people suggested things and it fitted with me, that was okay. I grew up in a family where people cared enough about me to watch me grow properly and love me. They nurtured me and supported me. That strength, it makes you a secure and normal human being.’
It occurs to me that Warwick is utterly fearless. Is there anything she fears? Death even? ‘Not at all,’ she shrugs. ‘I don’t even think about it. Why should I?’
She certainly used to think about all things other-worldly. She loves a good psychic. She got addicted to them after one in London in the early Sixties told her she would win a Grammy.
At that point, she hadn’t even recorded any of the songs that would eventually win for her, although Bacharach had written them. ‘It was also predicted I was going to perform for the Queen and I did.’
Not so accurate was another, who in 1971 advised her to add a final e onto her surname – ‘it will bring you good luck and add the vibration needed for balance’.
She did, but four years later reverted from Warwicke back to Warwick.
‘I hated it’, she said at the time.
‘It was a disaster, the worst thing I could have done and it did not bring me any luck’.
Undeterred, she went on to front a successful television channel called Psychic Friends Network. She was criticised because gullible viewers flocked to their phones to consult psychics at £2.50 a minute. The network paid her more than £2 million a year to make long info-commercials for them between 1991 and 1998.
Warwick ended the association, according to her longtime friend and tour manager Henry Carr, after someone pointed her out in an airport as ‘that psychic lady on TV’.
Warwick was mortified, said Carr. ‘She told me she had worked too long and too hard as a singer just to end up being known as “that psychic lady”.
Now Warwick tells me of that time, ‘Everyone seemed to love it but the people who owned it turned out to be not so nice. I’m too busy singing to do anything like that again.’
Warwick had twenty Top Forty hits with Bacharach and David songs.
Someone else who had a liking for their songs was Cilla Black, whose cover of Anyone Who Had A Heart went to No.1 in the UK. This upset Warwick, who began to regard Cilla as a deadly rival.
‘I told her You’re My World would be my next single in the States, and she quickly released her version in the UK’, she said later. ‘I honestly believed if I sneezed on my next record then she would sneeze on hers, too. There was no imagination in her recording’.
In fact Cilla’s version of You’re My World got to No.1 in the UK, and Warwick did not release hers as a single, although it did appear on a later album.
She’s very close to both of her sons. ‘My eldest son David is on tour with me.He’s also featured on the CD. He sings Say A Little Prayer with me. My youngest son Damon lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and he’s a producer. He did a mix on the CD.
She had a very turbulent time with their father. She twice married actor and drummer William Elliott. They first married in 1966 and parted in May 67 but remarried in August 1967 and separated for the final time in 1975.
During that time she was the principal breadwinner which some men would have found difficult to deal with. ‘I don’t think all men necessarily have a problem with it. There are a lot of men who live with women who make a fair amount of money and if it’s a fragile kind of relationship therefore a man’s ego can be wounded.’
‘I’m certain that had a lot to do with my husband. It’s not something that was resolved too easily. I married him and wanted a divorce and married again. Can’t live, can’t live without. It was easy. I was in love with him.’
‘The second time around is always good. I wore a suit to the first wedding and a dress to the second. Both were lovely. There were a lot of circumstances that contributed to us parting a second time, which I’m not going to discuss.’
There’s no chance of them getting back together because he’s now deceased. She’s also been romantically linked with Sacha Distel, actor Philip Michael Thomas and Godfather actor Gianni Russo.
Does she think there will be a third wedding? With a little chuckle she says, ‘Never say never.’