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A Conversation with Dionne Warwick, Who Appears at UCPAC in Rahway on September 9

By Spotlight Central

Legendary singer and recording artist Dionne Warwick is coming back to New Jersey to perform at Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway on September 9, 2022. Warwick, 81, is a six-time Grammy Award-winner who has performed on more than 75 charted hit songs and sold over 100 million records including “Walk on By,” “Do You Know the Way to San José,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” and “That’s What Friends are For.” Her latest efforts are her 2019 recordings, She’s Back and Dionne Warwick and the Voices of Christmas.

Born and raised in the Garden State, Warwick is the 2017 recipient of the prestigious Marian Anderson Award for her philanthropy, having raised awareness and major funding for AIDS research, the Starlight Foundation, children’s hospitals, world hunger, disaster relief, and music education. In 2019, she was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and, in 2021, Warwick was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Spotlight Central recently caught up with Warwick and talked with her about her musical childhood, her recording career, and her upcoming performance at UCPAC in Rahway.

Spotlight Central: You were born in New Jersey and raised in East Orange by a musical family, weren’t you?

Dionne Warwick: Absolutely! I come from a gospel singing family. Everybody in my family sang, so it was probably preordained that it’s what I was supposed to do, just the way God planned it.

Spotlight Central: Your dad promoted gospel records and your mom managed the Drinkard Singers, a gospel group consisting of your relatives. Is it true that you first started singing as a child in church?

Dionne Warwick: Yes, I sang at the church I grew up in — St. Luke’s AME Church where my grandfather was the minister — and then I joined the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark when I was 13, and that’s where I joined the choir.

Spotlight Central: We understand that, as a teen, you also formed a singing group called The Gospelaires with your sister, Dee Dee, and after school you and The Gospelaires would travel to various recording studios in Manhattan to perform as background singers and then back home again in time to do your homework!

Dionne Warwick: Yes, we would take the bus from Newark, NJ and go to the Port Authority bus station in New York where we’d take a taxi to 54th Street, or wherever the studio was located, to do the session.

Spotlight Central: And what was it like for a high school student to appear on recordings with some of the country’s most popular artists?

Dionne Warwick: Oh, it was absolutely incredible! We were not only being given an opportunity to view their talent, but to interact with some of the people, who at that period of time, were the icons of the recording industry — people like Solomon Burke, The Drifters, and The Exciters.

Spotlight Central: And didn’t you work with artists like Ben E. King and Jerry Butler, as well?

Dionne Warwick: Yes, that’s right.

Spotlight Central: Eventually, you graduated from East Orange High School and earned a scholarship to Hartt College of Music in Connecticut, but you still continued to record background vocals in New York City, which is where you met Burt Bacharach. Can you tell us more about that?

Dionne Warwick: We were doing a background session — a Drifters’ session — where Burt Bacharach had written a song with another songwriter, Bob Hilliard, called “Mexican Divorce.” After we completed the session, Burt Bacharach approached me and asked if I’d be interested in doing some demonstration records of songs he was writing with a new lyricist he was working with named Hal David.

Spotlight Central: Is it true you were paid something like $12.50 per demo?

Dionne Warwick: [Laughs] Yes, that’s about right. That’s what the rate was at the time.

Spotlight Central: Working with Bacharach led to your big break when Florence Greenberg, the owner of Scepter Records, heard you sing and signed you to her label. In 1962, Scepter released your first single, the Top 20 hit “Don’t Make Me Over,” but wasn’t there some kind of mistake made on that record?

Dionne Warwick: Yes, my last name was misspelled. My name is Warrick — “W-A-R-R-I-C-K” — but on the record, they misspelled it by putting a second “W” instead of the second “R.”

Spotlight Central: Which you obviously decided to keep! There’s a story out there which suggests that you were the one who supplied Bacharach and David with the title for “Don’t Make Me Over”? Can you tell us what happened there?

Dionne Warwick: It came out of an altercation regarding a song called “Make it Easy on Yourself” that was promised to me but was given to Jerry Butler. I didn’t quite like that they had made a promise to me and broke it, and I let them know they could never think about “making me over” — you know, “Don’t even think about it!”

Spotlight Central: After “Don’t Make Me Over,” you had an incredible string of hits in the 1960s which included songs like “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Walk on By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Alfie,” and your first two Grammy-winners, “Do You Know the Way to San José” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” Nearly every one of your early hits was written by Bacharach and David. What was it about their music and lyrics that connected so well with you?

Dionne Warwick: They were written specifically for me. It’s that simple.

Spotlight Central: Did you — or do you now — have a favorite?

Dionne Warwick: No, they’re like my children to me, and you don’t have a favorite child.

Spotlight Central: In the ’70s, the hits continued. In 1974, you released your first #1, “Then Came You,” with The Spinners, and in 1979, your third and fourth Grammy-winners, “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and “Déjà Vu.” In the 1980s, however, you turned to TV and hosted the Solid Gold TV show. Do you recall any particularly memorable experiences you had working with the artists who appeared on that show?

Dionne Warwick: Each of the artists who appeared was very special, and I also had an opportunity to work with a lot of my friends, so it was an especically joyous time for me. Plus, this was during a period of time when “music was music” and people just loved the fact that the artists we were presenting were becoming favorites and making such wonderful, wonderful recordings.

Spotlight Central: In the ’80s there were more hits for you, including 1982’s “Heartbreaker” with The Bee Gees, and “That’s What Friends are For,” which earned you your fifth Grammy and was ranked by Billboard as the most popular song of 1986. What are your thoughts regarding that particular song?

Dionne Warwick: That song is still very, very meaningful to me. It’s a song that’s not only been a fundraising song for AIDS research, but it’s also a song about friendships and what they mean to me.

Spotlight Central: Even though “That’s What Friends Are For” had Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight performing on it, the recording was attributed to a group led by you, “Dionne and Friends.” Was that especially gratifying given the status of your singing partners?

Dionne Warwick: It was wonderful — and they’re all just the kind of friends I have, where I’ve been there for them and they’ve also been there for me.

Spotlight Central: Speaking of friends, in 2004, you recorded My Friends and Me, a set of duets produced by your son, Damon Elliot, who has also worked with artists including Pink and Christina Aguilera. The album featured duets with people like Gloria Estefan, Olivia Newton-John, and Reba McEntire. How did you enjoy working with your son along with all of those other extremely talented female artists?

Dionne Warwick: It was wonderful! And I still continue to work with my son, who is a very effective and efficient producer. It’s a joy to know that he has honed his craft to the point where I’m very, very comfortable working with him. Plus, working with the ladies was absolutely wonderful — and they’re all friends, too, which made the recording process that much easier.

Spotlight Central: You’ve appeared as “The Mouse” on TV’s The Masked Singer, and you’re also the subject of a new documentary called Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, which will air on CNN, but we’re very excited to report that you’ll be appearing live in our home state of New Jersey at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway. What can audiences expect to see and hear at this concert?

Dionne Warwick: [Laughs] Well, obviously, they’re going to be hearing and seeing me!

Spotlight Central: [Laughs] We sure hope so!

Dionne Warwick: [Laughs] I’ll be doing the songs people truly expect me to sing, of course, in addition to performing a few songs they may not be familiar with. I’m really looking forward to being home in New Jersey and putting on this show where, hopefully, everyone will enjoy what they’ve come to see and hear.

Spotlight Central: Is there anything else you’d like to add, or anything you’d like to say to all your fans in New Jersey — and elsewhere — who’ve enjoyed your music for so many years?

Dionne Warwick: It’s just wonderful to be appreciated — you know, that’s basically what it boils down to — and I’m thrilled that they continue to love what I do. I hope they’ll appreciate me even more once they come out to see me on stage, and I know I’ll enjoy performing for them, too!

Dionne Warwick will appear on September 9, 2022 at 8pm at Union County Performing Arts Center, 1601 Irving Street, Rahway, NJ, 07065. Ticket prices are $59, $69, $79, and $89. For tickets and/or further info, please click on ucpac.org. To purchase accessible seating, call the UCPAC Box Office at 732-499–8226.

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