Dionne Warwick

Barbara Ellington, Features Co-ordinator, Jamaica Gleaner, 31 March 2002

AT 61 years old, Dionne Warwick is the second most charted female artiste of the past 40 years.

With her international recognition, she has stacked up over 40 albums, and her distinct crystalline voice is instantly recognisable all over the world.

Miss Warwick was the special guest of organisers of the Actor Boy Awards held last Tuesday at the Little Theatre in Kingston.

She spoke with The Sunday Gleaner on a wide range of

Surprisingly, in spite of her huge body of work, Miss Warwick is not resting on her laurels. Currently on tour, and working on her new album Dionne Sings Dionne, she will be touring several west coast cities in the United States during April.

Come May, she heads off to South Africa to perform and visit with "Daddy" as she affectionately calls that country's former leader, Nelson Mandela.

Of course I had to ask the legend whether her attitude to air travel had altered since the catastrophic events of September 11.

She said, "If I was not a person of faith, it would have affected how I move about but this is my life's work and air travel is the only way to do what I've been put here to do." She further stated that she believes everyone has a time, "... if it's my time, it's my time. I do not step out on a plane, train or bus without God," said the woman who has been around the world all continents three times and performed for kings, queens and princess.

Miss Warwick has been coming to Jamaica since the 1960s and, although she has performed here before, she would do so again if there is a "right offer".

This year marks her 40th anniversary in the business and a host of celebrations, television specials and events to honour her have been planned and she will be getting a lifetime achievement award.

Of the new album, she decided to do a remake of her own songs because "everyone is doing my songs, so I might as well do the same. It will be released in November to coincide with my anniversary date. It will be well worth waiting for."

Fans can expect duets with other musical legends such as Michael Jackson, Gladys Knight, Sir Elton John, Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross and, of course, her first cousin Whitney Houston.

And on that subject, I took the opportunity to ask about the health and well-being of Whitney whose absence from Liza Minelli's recent nuptials evoked speculation as to whether she had been having more drug problems.

Miss Warwick said her cousin was actually working on her upcoming album in the studies in Florida at the time. Miss Warwick told The Sunday Gleaner that Whitney has a lot of love and support around her and everything is going to be alright.

She thanked Jamaicans and others everywhere for their prayers and asked that people continue to pray for her full recovery.

The entire family is musical Ms. Warwick grew up enjoying the music her parents listened to. Of course, gospel music was the foundation but among the early influences were Dinah Washington, B.B. King and Nat King Cole.

"I heard music all the time," Ms. Warwick said.

She describes her first hit at age 19 as "my graduation present," and has very pleasant memories of the collaboration with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who wrote songs just for her.

The relationship with the duo lasted 15 years because, after first hearing her with The Sherrels, they only wanted her voice.

Today, she's happy that the voice has not changed and she'll use it to attain some new arrangements of the old songs on the new album.

Although home has been in Brazil for the last eight years, she's been nine months on the road playing concerts and night clubs. Retirement is out of the question for now, but she will continue to work with a character building programme for young women known as "Best Friends".

The programme is the brainchild of General Colin Powell and the New Jersey native just began working with its counterpart for young men. She also worked extensively with the Reagan Administration as the U.S. Ambassador for Health.

Her other projects include the development of a line of cosmetics (including cleansers and moisturisers) for women of colour. The line, known as Enyo, is African for perfection and is currently being test marketed. It will be available in July. She already has her own specially manufactured fragrance, 'Dionne'.

And are there any books in Ms. Warwick's future?

Perhaps not, but she would like to tell aspects of her life story in song.

"Some things should be left private."

And how does she feel about the Oscar Awards won by Denzel Washington and Halle Berry?

"Very proud, I know them all and feel very privileged to call them friends and have broken bread with them. Sydney Poitier has been a mentor for years, so I think the awards are long overdue and well deserved," she said.

Ms. Warwick said she has never had the time delve into film because of her busy singing career but she hopes to get into it in future.

She was able to combine the roles of motherhood and performer when her two sons were infants because she had no doubt in her mind what was most important.

"My schedule revolved around them. They travelled with me until they were school age. I went to PTA meetings, car-pooled, did bake sales the bet and it worked out well." Now a grandmother to five, she says they are all musically inclined.

On the personal level, Ms. Warwick who is widowed has companionship but enjoys her independence.

"I love my freedom, if I feel like going to Paris next week, I don't need to be considering someone else's feelings."

She regards all her hit songs as her children and has no personal favourite: "They all mean something special."



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