Growing up, in my house as in many others, Saturday-morning chore time was a ritual that was to be enacted—almost without fail—before any other portion of the tree-climbing, swimming-hole-visiting, videogame-playing weekend could commence. And chore time, in my house, required a soundtrack, one that was provided via records—mostly Motown and the Beatles—that my mother had hoarded and held onto since she was a teenager.
But before Aretha could teach me how to spell “respect” or the Beatles would croon of wanting to hold my hand, inevitably, the first song of the day came courtesy of Dionne Warwick. In fact, even now, when I hear Warwick sing, “From the moment I wake up/Before I put on my makeup” from “I Say a Little Prayer,” I have to resist a powerful urge to pick up a dust rag and get to work.
While this particular ritual may be unique to my family, when it comes to being a person for whom the voice and songs of Warwick are part of life’s soundtrack, I am far from special.
While much has been made, especially of late, to Warwick’s familial connection to another famous voice—she was cousin to Whitney Houston and, by all accounts, acted as both role model and mentor to the singer—people may forget Warwick herself was to a singing career born. Her mother, aunts and uncles were all part of the Drinkard Singers, a powerfully voiced and popular family gospel group. Indeed, Warwick herself got her start singing gospel as a child, even then distinguishing herself as more than just a pretty voice, and occasionally performing with the Drinkard Singers.
From there, the stage was clearly set for Warwick and the loveliness of her distinctive voice to become a force in the music industry—although it was impossible to imagine at that time just how powerful a force she would be.
To call Warwick a legend is to correctly apply an oft-misused term. But in Warwick’s case, it seems almost ridiculous to refer to the singer as anything else. However, it is no insult to her talents and abilities to suggest that without the skills of the two men who would become most closely associated with her, the world would likely know a very different Dionne Warwick.
Those men are, of course, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and the long relationship between the songwriting duo and the singer who best and most memorably embodied their work, will no doubt go down in history as one of the most impressive longstanding collaborations in all of show business. Together, the three would chart hit after hit, during decade after decade, making Warwick one of the most successful female singers of all time, second only to the mighty Aretha Franklin as music’s most-charted female vocalist.
To give a sense of just how vast and broad Warwick’s singing career has been, it’s worth knowing that she charted her first hit song, “Don’t Make Me Over” (the title and song coming after she’d snapped that very phrase at Bacharach and David) in 1962, and never looked back. Since then, her hits have included (but are certainly not limited to) “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Walk on By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “Message to Michael,” “Alfie,” “Then Came You,” “I’ll Never Love this Way Again,” and, of course, my Saturday-morning staple, “I Say a Little Prayer.” She also hosted Solid Gold for a couple of seasons and lent her voice in memorable fashion to “We Are the World,” among many, many other career and personal achievements.
These days, the woman who could easily rest on her lauded laurels and enjoy a life as a living legend instead chooses to spend much of her time onstage, where she continues to wow audiences with her singular voice, immense stage presence and million-dollar smile.
And, in case you’re wondering, I still occasionally spend Saturdays, dust rag in hand, Warwick by my side. Some habits die hard.
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