Dionne Warwick Makes New Plans: Movie and a Gospel Album

The singer reveals why she thinks Marlene Dietrich is "a groovy lady"

Dionne Warwick posing by a lamp-post on a street in London, May 21st, 1964 Credit: Keystone/Getty

"I recorded as a joke — to get them off my back. They were bugging me no end. As a result I had a hit — so there was nothing to do but sing!" said Dionne Warwick, smiling, making success sound like the easiest thing in the world.

The people who were "bugging" Dionne are her writers/producers Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who discovered Dionne six years ago, singing on demonstration records and in background groups.

"I was in college, home on vacation semester breaks, and I did quite a bit of background work. I was the spokesman for the group on the session with the Drifters (which included "Mexican Divorce" and "Sweets For My Sweets") that Burt had written and was producing. There are two producers involved here: there's Burt Bacharach and Hal David and both are my writers."

Dionne Warwick will begin a new phase of her career, acting, in a film called "The Slave," scheduled to be filmed in Tallahassee, Fla., during a six-week period in July and August. Dionne will portray a slave-mistress of a rich plantation owner. Because of her extremely heavy personal appearance schedule, she has had to squeeze her participation in the filming into an already full itinerary. She's looking forward to it, although she hasn't had a chance to study any acting.

"I don't know if it's to my advantage or disadvantage, but they don't seem to want me to. And, I'm very excited about it. I'm kind of, you know, a little shaky because I've never done anything like this before. But it sounds, and it's gonna be, I hope, very interesting."

Dionne has also managed to find time to produce other artists on record. She has already produced other artist on record. She has already produced one record by the Gentlemen Four called "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down," which will be released on either the Scepter or Wand label. She is also recording a brother and sister duo from Winnepeg, Canada, which she hopes to release sometime this summer or early fall.

Dionne's musical background is gospel music ("At the beginning of my career the only music I listened to was gospel. That was my first love.") Many people are confused and think that she was a part of the famous Drinkard Singers. "The Drinkard Singers consisted of my mother, her sisters and brothers who are my aunts and uncles. I never belonged to the Drinkard Singers. The only time I ever sang with them was during an occasion, like, when my aunt was sick and I'd fill in for her. I had my own gospel group known as the Gospelaires. We basically traveled in the Philadelphia/New Jersey area. We never went too far away from home."

She will be releasing a gospel album around Christmas, on which she is accompanied by the Drinkard Singers and studio musicians who normally play for gospel recordings. When asked who arranged the album, she replied:

"Wow! You don't arrange gospel music, it just happens!"

The quartet that accompanies Dionne has been with her for varying periods of time. "My guitarist, Lee Valentine, has been with me since I started six years ago. My bassist, Peter Warren, is two years old now. My drummer, Ray Lucas, is about seven months, and my piano player, John Myer, is about a year and a half."

Dionne has a great admirer in Miss Marlene Dietrich, whom Dionne also admires. "She has been very helpful to me in foreign countries. On my first trip abroad, in fact, she was like mother away from home. She's just a groovy lady. "

No, I can't say that she's completely responsible for my stage presentation. I've made it a habit of seeing quite a few entertainers perform. It's basically a lesson in seeing what to do and what not to do, you know. Especially for a young performer like myself. It's helped me tremendously, watching her along with many others. I've found that as long as you're yourself, people seem to enjoy you much more than when you're trying to be somebody else, because you never can be anybody else."

All Bacharach and David songs written especially for her are given to Dionne. Sometimes other artists such as Dusty Springfield and Jackie DeShannon have had hits subsequently recording the same songs:

"Dusty Springfield did a song called 'Wishin' and Hopin' which was the 'B' side of 'Empty Place,' my second recording ever, and she was fortunate enough to have a hit record with it. I can't hold that against her. But I recorded it first, so there's nothing to do with me. 'What the World Needs Now Is Love' I did the original demo on. It was basically written for a boy and I didn't like it, and it was given to Jackie DeShannon to record because Bacharach/David had an obligation to Liberty Records at the time to record one of their artists at least four times and this was a song that was kind of second-hand stuff, and she recorded it. And I really dig the fact that she had a hit record with it."

Other Bacharach/David songs have been hits for Dionne in unexpected ways:

"Why didn't I record 'Alfie' sooner? Mainly because so many people had recorded it already. It wasn't written for me, it was written for a film. I recorded 'Alfie' as a last resort, anyway, because we needed some material to fill an album. And it was available, so I did it. I'm kind of glad it worked out the way it did," she said laughing.

"Most of the songs that I have recorded that have been singles for me were written for male vocals. And this was at a time when Burt was producing two people. They wrote for Lou Johnson, at the time, supposedly the male counterpart of me. And there were two songs that I can name right off hand, that was 'Reach Out for Me' and 'Message to Michael,' which they wrote for him. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case may be, they weren't the records that they expected them to be, and a year and a half later I decided I wanted to do them for album purposes, and the disc jockeys thought they were too good to stay in albums, so they were singles for me, thank goodness."

Material which is not written by Bacharach/David is submitted to her and her producers on demonstration records ("If they hold the continuity that we demand for my recordings, then there it is"). Her first million-seller recording was "Valley of the Dolls," recorded roughly six or seven months ago.

"It's a beautiful song. It was written with me in mind, ironically, by Andre and Dori Previn, and we became very fast friends after I did one of their songs on TV. I received a beautiful telegram from them, saying all kinds of nice things to me. We met in Los Angeles, and one thing led to another and Andre said that eventually they're gonna write one for me, and so 'Valley of the Dolls' came up and there it was. It was the 'B' side of 'I Say A Little Prayer.'

"Everything that I have to say is done through song. I think that the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' is very instrumental in many ways in making people listen. I continue to say that a lot of things have been written musically that people are able to listen to more readily than speeches. It's like lyricists are automatic speech writers and they write very pretty things and they write very meaningful things. Musically, arrangers are the people who put the music there so that the people will stop what they're doing and listen. That's the way most messages are given as far as singers are concerned, and I believe in it. Bacharach and David are very responsible for at least three songs that I sing that carry very, very strong messages: 'What the World Needs Now Is Love,' "The Windows of the World' and 'I Say A Little Prayer,' turned out to be that way, because of the situation in Vietnam. At the time most of the girls were writing to their fellas and this is exactly what they were saying, a prayer for them. So that turned out to be exactly that way. But I feel very close to those two songs that I mentioned before because they carry the message as to what should be done."

Dionne feels that the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" has been her national anthem since her gospel-singing days. "'Battle Hymn' I've always loved. That's been a part of me ever since I can remember. I started doing it last year, and will continue to do it because it does carry the message that most people need to listen to."