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Dionne Warwick: 'I'm no diva!'

DOWN TO EARTH: Dionne Warwick

REPRESENTING AN era of truly gifted soul singers, Dionne Warwick is celebrated as one of the greats. And with the star exuding class and talent, and boasting a career that has spanned an incredible 50 years, it might be tempting to describe the US songstress as a soul diva – in the most flattering sense, of course.

But ask the legend if she likes the commonly used description and the answer is definitive:
“No,” she states. “It’s [diva] a word that was coined for opera and that’s where it should stay!”

Well, that clears that one up. And in retrospect, it’s perhaps not surprising that the Walk On By hitmaker and UN Goodwill Ambassador would shun a term that has become more commonly used to describe female stars who are rude and demanding.

On the contrary, Warwick, who will be in the UK for a series of dates next week, seems humble, despite her legendary status and her many accolades. Polite and softly spoken, the 71-year-old chuckles as she attempts to define herself.


FAMILY AFFAIR: Warwick with her sons David and Damon as she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1985

“I’m just me,” she says. “I’m who I’ve always been. There’s not been a period of time where I felt any different and I still don’t feel any different. I still have friends from my high school days and we all gather together and catch up on who’s doing what, who got married, how many grandchildren there are – that kind of thing.”

How has she been able to stay so grounded?

“It’s the way I was brought up.”

Born into a family of singers, (her mother, aunts and uncles were members of the gospel group The Drinkard Singers), Warwick’s entry into the music business was almost inevitable.

“You know that saying, ‘the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree’? I think that was true of me,” she laughs. “There were a multitude of other things I wanted to do, like being a ballerina. But music has always been a part of my life so I guess it was ordained that I would follow that path.”

Frequently singing with The Drinkard Singers, Warwick went on to pursue a solo career and made her breakthrough with her 1962 debut single Don’t Make Me Over, penned by her longtime songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

With her distinctive vocals garnering widespread attention, greater fame followed with subsequent tracks Walk On By and Do You Know The Way To San Jose?, which became hits in the UK.


LEGEND: Dionne Warwick received a Musical Lifetime Achievement trophy at the 47th Golden Camera award ceremony in Berlin this February

Further success and critical acclaim followed, but through it all, Warwick says she was never caught up in the hype of her fame – something she attributes to the structure of the music industry at the time.

“I was blessed to have come along at a time where I was much too busy concentrating on the music to pay attention to what was going on around me,” she says. “It wasn’t that I had it [success] handed to me; I earned every bit of it. I recorded music that took a long time to be heard and I had recordings that nobody bought. So I was fortunate that I was able to take it step by step – it wasn’t just thrown at me.

“For youngsters today, the business is more of a marketing industry than it was when I was coming up. I think it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the industry [today] spent more time developing these artists. But that’s not the way the industry is built today.”

Another aspect of today’s music industry, which is far more prevalent than it was decades ago, is an abundance of female artists who are portrayed as scantily clad, overly sexualised young women.


UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: Dionne with cousin Whitney Houston earlier this year

This never seemed to be an issue for Warwick, whose image, even in the ‘60s and ‘70s, was always more classy than it was overtly sexy.

“I took time to watch the icons that I wanted to emulate; artists like Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. I always knew the type of artist I wanted to be and people trying to make me anything else was never an issue.”

Still, she admits that the industry “is full of peaks and valleys” and reveals there was a time when she felt like giving up music for good.

“During the disco era, the music I was known for became almost forgotten,” she recalls. “That was hard. But one thing that period gave me an opportunity to do was be at home with my family. So in retrospect, I guess that was the best part of my down time.”

With family being hugely important to the mother-of-two, it comes as no surprise that she still struggles to deal with the loss of her cousin, Whitney Houston, who died in February. Though Warwick was composed when she spoke at Houston’s funeral, she says that it hasn’t been easy to deal with the loss.

“It’s been exceptionally hard. It’s something that will be with our family for quite a while.”

Asked if she has any standout memories of Houston, Warwick says: “All of them. There’s not just one. There are so many fond memories.”

Currently gearing up to tour the UK courtesy of Jazz FM – with a special Royal Albert Hall performance scheduled in support of the global organisation The Hunger Project on May 28 – Warwick is looking forward to returning to the UK.

“I hope everyone is aware of The Hunger Project and I look forward to seeing everyone come out for a wonderful evening in support of something very important.”

Jazz FM presents Dionne Warwick’s UK tour at the following venues: May 28 – the Royal Albert Hall, London; May 30 – The Sage, Gateshead; May 31 – Symphony Hall, Birmingham; June 1 – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; June 3 – Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham; June 4 – Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. For tickets, visit www.jazzfm.com/live

For more information on The Hunger Project visit www.thp.org

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