Dionne Knows the Way to AC

By Patricia O'Haire

The sound of her voice melts in your ear like snow on an early spring day.

"Hi," says Dionne Warwick, fresh from a recent concert in London and getting ready for a trip to Bally's in Atlantic City this coming weekend.

"I haven't been here in quite a while," she says. "And I'm going to have fun. I'm from New Jersey [East Orange], and when I play A.C. my whole family converges on me." Warwick is calling from her mother's home in the Garden State. Although she maintains an apartment nearby, Warwick's main address is in Rio de Janiero. Yes, she speaks Portuguese.

When not performing, Warwick has been working on two new albums. "One is a boxed set to celebrate my 40th year as a singer," she says. "We're re-creating some of the old songs, rerecording them, putting a new twist on them.

"I've asked a few friends to work on it with me. I expect it to be out in November," she says. The "friends" include the likes of Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin and Mary Wilson.

"The other album will be all-new," she continues. "I get a lot of songs sent to me from new composers, and I've been going over them. I like singing new songs very much, but when I perform I have to stick to what people want to hear.

"It pleases me to be able to please folks sitting in those seats," she says.

"I never get tired of some of those numbers. But it's healthy to make changes every now and then, dust off a few of the golden oldies and bring them into the millennium. That's what I try to do every once in a while."

Warwick, 61, has been performing for more than 40 years. Her voice has changed little, gotten a bit deeper, maybe. She looks as elegant as ever.

"Walk on By," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?", "Alfie," "What the World Needs Now" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" are a few of the numbers she has made famous. They were written for her by Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics).

Warwick has won five Grammys - the first in 1968 for "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" - and has five grandchildren who call her "Grammy." She also holds a doctor's and master's degrees from Hartt College of Music in Hartford.

Warwick began her career singing gospel, leading a group called the Gospelaires with her sister, Dee Dee. From there, she sang backup for Dinah Washington, Brook Benton and the Drifters. When Bacharach first heard her he decided on the spot that her voice was just right to interpret songs he and David were writing. They recorded their first album in 1961. The trio had more than 30 hit singles and 20 best-selling albums.

But like many unions, theirs unraveled - in 1975. At the same time, Warwick's marriage was also coming apart. She sued Bacharach and David for breach of contract, and was in turn sued by her ex for alimony.

Shaken, she managed to put out another album but it didn't do much. In 1979, Barry Manilow produced her next gold album, "Dionne," and her star started to rise again. It has been shining ever since.

Warwich has patched things up somewhat with the music men; she's also happy that her two sons, David, 29, and Damon, 33, have made music their careers. They're both record producers. David's also a composer.

Once again, all seems right in Dionne Warwick's world.

Daily News (New York) March 17, 2002