Dionne Warwick met legendary composer Burt Bacharach in 1960 and went from background singer to the voice of a generation. The tenderness and vulnerability in Warwick’s voice brought songs like “Don’t Make Me Over” and “This Empty Place” to life and turned them into instant, early classics. Her sound was synonymous with the 60’s, and she became a part of an era that would forever change the course of the music industry.
Warwick was a permanent fixture on the charts in the 60’s with timeless hits like “A House is Not a Home”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Walk on By” and “Anyone Who Had a Heart”. You couldn’t fall in love, get your heart broken and fall in love again without a Warwick song in the backdrop. Her voice was utterly feminine and perfectly captured the lyrics she so effortlessly sang.
Warwick was one of the first African- American solo female crossover sensations, bridging the gap between pop and R&B. The 60’s alone saw over 30 top 100 hits, solidifying her indelible mark on the music industry. Warwick also became one of the first female artists to bring movie themes to mainstream success, taking on the iconic “(Theme From) Valley of the Dolls” and “Alfie”. Her voice was soft and yearning, effortless yet complex and could crescendo with such elegant ease- perfect attributes for vividly telling a story.
Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Warwick continued to make music, winning the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance multiple times for songs like “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”.
The release of “That’s What Friends Are For” in 1986 would be one of the biggest milestones of Warwick’s career, soaring to the number one spot on the Billboard charts for 4 weeks and ultimately winning a Grammy. Teaming up with Bacharach once again, Warwick sang lead vocals on the heartfelt track that also featured fellow legendary artists Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight.
In 1990, Warwick (alongside her aunt, Gospel singer Cissy Houston) performed “That’s What Friends Are For” as the finale song of a 2- hour AIDS benefit concert aired by CBS. With celebrity guests and performers like Patti Smith, Carly Simon, The Four Tops and Whitney Houston, the event would go on to raise over $2.5 million in one night.
The AIDS benefit concert wasn’t the only time Warwick would use her notoriety and celebrity status to affect change. She was one of the voices behind the all-star charity single “We Are the World” and performed at “Live Aid” in 1984.
In addition, Warwick was appointed the first United States Ambassador of Health by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. In 2002, Warwick served as Global Ambassador for Health and Ambassador for the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO). She campaigned for many causes like AIDS and world hunger and has raised millions of dollars for those causes.
Warwick’s illustrious, worldwide career has spanned over half a century. Throughout that time, the 5 time Grammy award winner has sold over 100 million records and charted 75 hit songs. She has accomplished the seemingly unimaginable, transcending time, gender and race to become one of the most successful solo female recording artists. She undeniably paved the way and inspired countless other female artists including her cousin, the late, great Whitney Houston.
Forget a career that spans decades, an artist must have, above all else, a phenomenal gift that can cross generations. Dionne Warwick’s unforgettable voice, charisma and enduring spirit has made her a legend. She has without doubt left her mark on the music industry and will now and forever be an icon.