Dionne Warwick: 'I refused a couple of Bacharach and David songs'

The Walk On By singer has five Grammys – but she reveals she would really like the chance to win an Oscar or an Emmy

Hello Dionne. Your latest album, Now, has some previously unheard Bacharach and David songs on it. They wrote some of your biggest hits (1) but did you ever say to them: "Sorry guys, this one's not really good enough"?
Well, not in those words! But yes, I have refused a couple of theirs. I just felt that they were not for me.

Were those songs used by other people?
Yes they did, and they became huge hits! One is What the World Needs Now Is Love. That was eventually recorded by Jackie DeShannon and the rest is history.

Cilla Black recorded quite a few of your songs in the UK. Did you ever meet her?
Oh yeah.

You have been quoted as saying that if you'd sneezed on a track, she would have sneezed on her version of it.
Yes. And that's true. But over the years you realise it's not really the artist, it's the management and those that produce who are the guilty ones.

Your Christmas album is called My Favorite Time Of Year. So is this your favourite time of the year?
It certainly is. It's the only time that I see people truly smiling and being completely helpful.

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?
No, not yet. I haven't had any time. But I will.

Perhaps you could give everyone a signed copy of the new album?
No, I don't think so! (2)

When you listen to your old songs, can you remember the moment you recorded them?
Oh yeah. The times in the studio were wonderful and fun. And you always remember the good times in your life, right?

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So, say for Walk On By, you can picture being in the studio, recording that vocal?
Absolutely. My family, who did most of the backing vocals on it, were in the studio with me.

You were born in East Orange, New Jersey, a town with a population of just 64,000. Yet it has spawned a host of successful singers (3). What's its secret?
Well, I guess we were blessed!

Is there any kind of commemoration for you there?
Yes, my grammar school has been renamed for me! (4) I visit as frequently as I can.

Have you ever been to Warwick in England?
Yes, I shot a special in Warwick in the late 60s. I thought it was wonderful to be in a town named after me!

You have been in the music business for 50 years. What's your favourite thing about it?
Performing. That gratification you get when people are enjoying themselves or you see an arm go around a shoulder or somebody grab a hand. It's nice to know that you're part of that particular moment of their lives.

And the worst thing?
The travelling. But it goes with the territory, unfortunately.

What motivates you to keep recording and touring?
It's just something I love doing. I sing. That's my living. I don't have to keep going, but I want to.

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Is there anything you haven't done that you would like to do?
Yes – and I do say this sincerely – there are three awards that I would at least like to have a chance at: the Oscar, the Emmy and the Tony. Although not necessarily in that order.

You have already won five Grammy awards. Where do you keep them?
They're on a shelf. But I don't call them awards, I call them rewards.

You've had quite a lot of rewards over the years.
Yes, I have. It's nice to be appreciated for the things that I've done.

Do you try to mentor younger acts who are coming through?
If they ask, yes. But 90% of them don't even think about doing that.

What advice would you give?
I'm afraid I don't give advice. But I will encourage.

Are you a good cook?
I certainly am! I do a Christmas dinner for 100 people every year.

How many turkeys do you need?
Oh, it's not only turkey. The tradition in our family is that every meat, every pastry, every bread and every vegetable that has been eaten during the course of the year in my home is what we eat for Christmas.

That all sounds incredibly stressful.
It is quite. But it gets done.


(1) Anyone Who Had a Heart, Walk On By, Don't Make Me Over, I Say a Little Prayer, Alfie, etc. Back to article
(2) If you were thinking of getting Dionne something, she usually suggests a donation to a charity (and definitely doesn't want socks, thanks). Back to article
(3) Other well-known musical acts from East Orange include Warwick's cousin Whitney Houston, Janis Ian, Queen Latifah, Gordon MacRae and Naughty By Nature. Back to article
(4) The Dionne Warwick Institute of Economics and Entrepreneurship. Back to article


Chris Salmon

The GuardianTramp

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