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[From Montgomery Advertiser]

Dionne Warwick discusses her music, inspiration, and famous kin

By Chris Jordan
Gannett News Service

Dionne Warwick's style is unmistakable.

The East Orange, N.J.-born singer, who just released a new Christmas album, was the first of the pop divas, and her image was striking.

Warwick's model-like physique was enhanced by glamorously sequined dresses.

This was no Little Eva doing the "Loco-Motion."

It was a style that the Supremes would soon share, and, as far as pop music is concerned, a style now carried on by the likes of Beyonce and Whitney Houston, Warwick's cousin.

Of course Warwick still owns that style, but, actually, Hollywood via Berlin originally inspired it. Warwick learned it from Marlene Dietrich when she was a "baby" in Paris, there for her first headlining performance, in 1963.

"My first trip to Europe was to Paris to perform at the Olympia," Warwick says. "Burt (Bacharach) was very kind and wrote (Dietrich) a little note saying, 'The baby is coming over, please take care of her,' and that's exactly what she did."

Bacharach, in addition to collaborating with co-songwriter Hal David and Warwick on numerous hits in the 1960s, was also a conductor for Dietrich's band. "She was an incredible mentor," Warwick says of Dietrich. "She introduced me to couture, she made sure that I was up early every morning, which I still do. She said you have to get up with the birds to know what the day is going to be. She made sure that I ate properly and associated with the right people. She was just a wonderful, wonderful mentor."

Dietrich, who died in Paris of kidney failure in 1992, was the former Berlin cabaret performer who conquered Hollywood in movies such as "Destry Rides Again."

While Dietrich might have helped establish the Warwick style, the voice is the work of the man upstairs. Warwick's exquisite phrasing is passionate but refined, never overbearing. Each syllable holds weight, and you won't find her riffing over a melody just to show off.

Her hits with Bacharach and David flowed like spun golden threads, starting with "Don't Make Me Over" in 1962, which, by the way, was an early and teasingly subversive feminist anthem. "Message to Michael," "I Say A Little Prayer" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" were just a few of the others from the era.

That voice is still in wonderful form on Warwick's new Christmas album, "My Favorite Time of the year," (DMI Records) a soothing seasonal tonic to help one get through the craziness of the holidays. Warwick's take on Christmas classics such as "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)" and "White Christmas" are stately and pure. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," a duet here with Gladys Knight, is sparse and soulful, and "Joy To The World" is given a gospel flare.

"That's the only way I know how to sing it," Warwick says of the tune. "Basically that's how we sing it in church."

In the 1970s and '80s, Warwick, born in 1940, worked with the likes of the Spinners, Isaac Hayes and the Bee Gees, producing hits with all.

Then the "Solid Gold" show, which was recently vamped up in a video by rockers Sum 41, and the Psychic Friends Network infomercials kept Warwick in the public eye in the '80 and 1990s.

Of course, Warwick's cousin, Whitney Houston, has been in the news as a result of drama with her husband, singer Bobby Brown.

"She's doing exceptionally well, and she's recording now," Warwick says of Houston, whose mom is singer Cissy Houston, Warwick's aunt. "You should be hearing something exceptional from her very soon."

Warwick's been like that throughout her career. Always one to stand up for family, friends or a cause, she took on the hip-hop community in 1993 over foul-mouthed lyrics, and recently defended the beleaguered Michael Jackson, who is facing child molestation charges. Back in the mid-1980s, Warwick assembled Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John to perform Bacharach's "That's What Friends Are For." The No. 1, Grammy-winning single raised more than $1 million for the fight against AIDS and helped raise public awareness about the epidemic. Back then, few in the entertainment community and government concerned themselves with the horror of the disease.

"I just have been brought up that way to stand up for what I believe in and support," Warwick says. "There's no other explanation for it -- I just happen to be who I am."



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