from Jet, March 11, 2002

Dionne Warwick Celebrates 40 Years In Music And Tells Why She Almost Gave It All Up

Dionne Warwick, one of the most enduring legends of music, is spending the year 2002 celebrating her 40th anniversary in the business.

She told JET that she is as surprised as anyone that 40 years have gone by since she connected with two composers, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and recorded Don't Make Me Over, the first of numerous hits.

"Nobody was more surprised than I was," she said. "The main thing, though, is that I've had fun." That fun has included hits that ranged from Walk On By and Alfie to Deja Vu and I Say A Little Prayer. And, along the way, she won five Grammy Awards and had more than 30 Top 40 hits.

The musical high point of her career, she said, was winning her first Grammy. It came from the phenomenal 1968 hit Do You Know The Way to San Jose. Oddly, that was a song that she called "silly" and wasn't too keen on recording. She also thought the 1980s' hit Heartbreaker was silly. "It got to the point where they'd come to me and ask which ones I liked and they'd pick the ones I didn't like. And they'd become hits."

On a personal level, the high point of her life was having her grade school, the Lincoln School in East Orange, NJ, named after her. The school is now called the Dionne Warwick Institute of Economics and Entrepreneurship where the students in grades 1-5 learn regular academics as well as marketing and business.

As successful and enduring as she has been in the music business, there was a time when Warwick was poised to say goodbye to become a teacher.

"In the 1970s I was going to give it up. I was getting ready to use my credentials that I'd worked very, very hard for and teach somewhere." She got her credentials from the Hartt College of Music in Hartford, CT.

The reason for giving it all up? Disco! "What occurred in the seventies was disco music," she recalled. "And radio stations were being created to play it. Other stations were being negated because of it. I was making records, but they weren't getting played because there was no place to play them."

And she didn't try to become a disco star, yielding to Donna Summer. "I had to be who I was and that was what people expected of me. My attitude was that disco was being done and done very, very well by the queen of disco herself, Donna Summer. And Donna has remained steadfast and true to her craft. And she didn't infiltrate where I was and I didn't try to do what she was doing."

Taking a break during that period was very positive for her. She got a chance to experience motherhood. "Taking that break did give me an opportunity to do some things I'm thrilled about," she said. "And I will forever be grateful that disco came along. It gave me a chance to stay at home a minute, have my children (David and Damon Elliott) and be a mommy and wife and enjoy my home."

However, the imprint she left on the music business was too large to end so abruptly. She recalled that recording industry mogul Clive Davis (who was instrumental in her cousin Whitney Houston's career) wouldn't give up on her.

"Clive Davis made it perfectly clear to me that I might be ready to give up on the industry, but the industry wasn't ready to give up on me. I was able to come back because I had such great songs like I'll Never Love This Way Again and Deja Vu. That's the reason for my acceptance with open arms -- giving people what they expected of me." Both songs earned her Grammy Awards.

Fans knew as they'd known during the 1960s that she'd produce songs from the heart that would endure. She pointed out that fans have often told her they grew up with such songs as Walk On By, I'll Never Fall In Love Again, Anyone Who Had A Heart, This Girl's In Love With You and Theme From (Valley of the Dolls).

Fans have also been impressed by her deep social commitment. In addition to putting a number of Black youngsters through college with little fanfare, she has been a tireless worker in the war on AIDS. She gathered Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Elton John together in 1985 to record That's What Friends Are For to benefit AIDS research. She also was featured on the USA for Africa hit We Are the World which aided efforts to end hunger in Africa.

Speaking of social commitment, her favorite of all the singles released has been The Windows of the World, a song that came out during the Vietnam War and deals with the futility of war.

Her career included performing in the 1968 movie Slaves with Ossie Davis and hosting the 1980s' hit syndicated television series "Solid Gold." She won't rule out returning to TV if the project is right.

But, down the road, she wants to keep giving fans great music. And she wants to fulfill a special dream. "I want to do a great piece on film, on television and on Broadway," she explained. "And I'll be in a direction to garner those three awards that I so desperately want -- the Oscar, Emmy and Tony. I'm surprised I haven't done Broadway, but timing is everything."

Those activities are long-range. For now, she wants to enjoy performing and reflecting on those 40 years.

A number of activities are planned to commemorate her anniversary, including the launching of DW Records. A series of duets with such friends as Luther Vandross, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Mary J. Blige will be released on the DW label late in the summer. Her son David will head the label.

In addition to the launching of the new label, 2002 will see her doing selective dates around the world. A major gala commemorating the anniversary is being planned for the fall. She also is being honored at Aaron Davis Hall in Harlem in May.

Bottles of wine and playing cards will be available for sale on her website later in the year with all proceeds going to programs at the school that bears her name.

She's aware that many artists who started in the early 1960s as she did weren't able to sustain a lengthy career. But she takes no credit. "Looking back on it, it's the way God planned it. I don't take credit, nor do I give credit to anyone but Him."
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