Grammy-winning singer Dionne Warwick

Multiple Grammy-winning legend Dionne Warwick talks about her nearly 50 years in the business and the new direction of her latest CD, “Only Trust Your Heart.”

In a career spanning almost five decades, Dionne Warwick has charted nearly 60 hits and won five Grammys—she was the first African American solo female artist of her generation to win for Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance. She's also an author, having written a children's book, Say a Little Prayer, and an autobiography, My Life, as I See It. The New Jersey native is generous in her support of various charities, including spearheading the music industry's fight against AIDS. Not one to slow down, Warwick has a new CD, "Only Trust Your Heart."


Tavis: Pleased to have Dionne Warwick back on this program. The legendary singer is celebrating her 50th anniversary in the music business with a new CD of contemporary jazz standards. It’s called “Only Trust Your Heart.” Dionne Warwick, good to have you back on this program.

Dionne Warwick: It’s wonderful being back, thank you.

Tavis: I can’t imagine that it took you 50 years to do a record of jazz standards, given the voice that you have. Why so long?

Warwick: It was touted as a jazz CD. I was as surprised as everybody else was. But it was wonderful. I had the best time recording this, I really did. We did it live, which was my dream, to be doing a live CD again, and the rhythm section that we used was just magic. Everything about it, the songs, the producer, the studio – everything about it was just meant to be.

Tavis: Were these songs that were personal favorites of yours or songs that you were introduced to for the record?

Warwick: I had not been that familiar with Sammy Cahn or Jack Wills’ music. Then all of a sudden I was, because as a child I went to see a film that Frank Sinatra performed in that he sang “A Pocketful of Miracles,” and then of course Diana Washington was always playing in our house, so “I’m a Fool to Love You” was a part of that.

Nat King Cole – so all of a sudden these songs were a part of my life without me even knowing it. Then I found a couple that I had never heard before. There’s one called, “If You Can Dream” that Lena Horne recorded, and I think it was kind of one of those songs that was just a part of an album for her, but when I heard it I said, “No, this has got to go on – got to.”

Tavis: You are such an original – this is not an original question, but I’m curious to get your take on it – you are such an original, how do you take a song that’s already been released; some of these songs a few times, and put your own flavor, your own treatment on it?

Warwick: First of all, you don’t try to compete with Sarah Vaughn.

Tavis: Right, yeah.

Warwick: That’s out to lunch, okay?

Tavis: That’s smart. (Laughter) Not unless you want to get spanked.

Warwick: Exactly.

Tavis: With all due respect to Dionne Warwick.

Warwick: No, you’re right about that much, darling, I know.

Tavis: Sarah Vaughn is – she is Sarah Vaughn, yeah.

Warwick: I grew up around her. She went to school with my mother. So she was Aunt Sass to me, but listening to her and her phrasing, and then of course I was enthralled with Ella Fitzgerald, you don’t try to do what they did, because first of all, it’s impossible to do.

You just kind of have to be who you are, and fortunately the feel of the lyric has a lot to do with how I choose a song and the melodies, of course, are very important as well. But a lyric has got to move me, and I just do what I do, whatever that is.

Tavis: Speaking of what you do and whatever it is, obviously it’s worked well for a lot of years – 50 years, to be exact. It’s worked pretty well. You might make something of yourself, you keep this up, one day.

Warwick: You think so? Think so? (Laughter)

Tavis: Fifty years in.

Warwick: I’m going to stick with you. (Laughter) You’ll make me a star, right?

Tavis: Yeah, you might be a star one day, hanging around with me, taking my advice about your career. Speaking of this 50-year journey, though, what do you make of Dionne Warwick’s voice?

Have you always been fond of your voice? Have you never liked your voice? Do you not like – what do you make of your – I know what I like, I know what I think of it; we all do, as fans. What do you think of your voice?

Warwick: Well first of all, I know it’s a God-given gift. That’s very important to know and realize. I happen to be a (unintelligible) mixture of my family. I come from a family of gospel singers, and I think I have a little bit of each one of the members of that particular group instilled in me. They say the apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree.

So I am hopeful and I guess it’s worked for 50 years so far, that I’m able to bring a bit of soothing relaxation to people through my vocal abilities, and also get them stirred up if I have to, through vocals.

Tavis: I’m glad you said that, because you grew up in a church, you come from a gospel family, I grew up in a church, as many of us did, obviously, certainly in the African American community, and when you think of gospel music you don’t necessarily think of a soothing voice.

When you think of gospel, you don’t necessarily think of that Dionne Warwick kind of sound. So tell me how that gospel influence ends up being transmitted through your voice in stuff that’s moving but that is very soothing and soft. You’re not a screamer, you’re not a – yeah.

Warwick: No. There are moments when I wish I could do what Aretha does.

Tavis: Yeah, or Patti LaBelle or any of them, yeah, yeah.

Warwick: Yeah, it’s like, wow. I think it’s because the way that I happen to feel about a lyric, how I approach it. I remember vividly standing in the studio with Leslie Uggams, recording her, and Leslie’s one of those pow-wow singers (makes noise).

I went out in the studio and I looked at her and I said, “You know what? I want you to look at that microphone and when you look at it, it’s Danielle, your baby, and you will not sing at her like that. You will give her a little bit of – just calm her down.

I don’t know if the songs that I have been able to record may have a lot to do with it, but it’s a message being given and it’s even when speaking with people, if you want to give them (unintelligible). I need some advice on that. You don’t scream at them. You kind of think a minute and then you come up with whatever it is.

In fact, people have said, “Would you say that again, because I couldn’t hear you.” That happens to be the demeanor of my voice.

Tavis: I think I hear you suggesting this, but I just want to ask more explicitly – how much of your success over this 50-year period, these five decades, has to do with picking the right songs, not just lyrically. I know how important lyric is to you, but picking the right songs for your voice?

Warwick: I’ve been a very, very blessed young lady, I must say. My career began and was very successful with two songwriters, Bacharach and David, who wrote specifically for me.

Tavis: For your voice, yeah.

Warwick: So I didn’t have to worry about it. It just was an automatic kind of situation. Every producer I’ve had since then has been very, very much – they did their homework. They knew where I could go, why I should go there. They didn’t try to stretch me any further than they knew that I had the ability to go.

So I didn’t really have to worry about choosing and picking. It was brought to me.

Tavis: That’s a blessing.

Warwick: That’s what I said. I am truly blessed.

Tavis: Just recently, not too long ago, you and all your friends got together for the first time in 25 years at the big AmfAR gala. Twenty-five years since “That’s What Friends Are For.”

Warwick: “That’s What Friends Are For,” that’s right.

Tavis: I wish I could have been in the room that night with you and Stevie –

Warwick: Oh, it was amazing.

Tavis: – and Elton and Gladys. What was that like, getting back together 25 years later?

Warwick: Amazing. Well, we’ve seen each other off and on over the period of time, but to stand on stage together again and to recreate what we did in that studio, it was thrilling. I became an instant fan. I’m looking down the line, saying, “Oh, these are my friends,” (unintelligible) doing again. So it was wonderful.

Tavis: Did you have any idea – I don’t know how you could have, but maybe you did; maybe you’re psychic like that – that that song would have the kind of impact and raise the kind of money that it did?

Warwick: You know what? Originally when I heard the song it was basically the first time I was back with Bacharach to record, and he and Carol, and I was going through songs that they had written for the project that we were doing for Arista.

The night after I left their home, listening to a thousand songs, “Night Shift” was on television and I heard the song being sung by Rod Stewart. Next day when I went back to their home I said, “I noticed there’s a song called ‘That’s What Friends Are For.'” They said, “Where’d you hear that song?” I said, “Well, I heard it last night at 4:00 in the morning from a film.

They said, “Well, now four of us know that song.” (Laughter) “You, Carol, me and Rod.”

Tavis: And Rod, yeah. (Laughter)

Warwick: “We all know that song now.” I said, “Well, I’d love to record it,” and they said, “Yeah, well, that’s a doable thing.” I said, “But I really want to include some friends,” because they all knew how friendships are very, very valuable to me, and they said, “Yeah, okay, fine.”

I started calling. I called Gladys first, and she was home because she had just had foot surgery, and I said, “Well, I’m doing a tune called ‘That’s What Friends Are For.'” She said, “Count me in.” I ran into Elton in the supermarket. He was planning a party for his manager. I said, “Elton, what are you doing tomorrow night?” (Laughter) He said, “Well, I got a party I’m throwing.” I said, “Well, can you come and record with me?” “Yes, I’ll be there.”

Stevie was in New Jersey, visiting his family, and I called him, I said, “Steveland, when are you coming home?” He said, “I’ll be home tomorrow.” I said, “Great. Come to Conway Studios,” and that was the genesis of it. It was –

Tavis: (Laughs) I love these stories, man.

Warwick: It just happened to be that –

Tavis: Yeah, running into Elton John at the supermarket –

Warwick: Supermarket – yeah, it was.

Tavis: – and you end up recording a hit that raises millions of dollars for AIDS research. And the thing that’s funny about – back to this record, “Only Trust Your Heart,” you’re doing some covers here, obviously. You’re doing some standards here.

The fact that “That’s What Friends Are For” had been recorded three or four years prior by Rod Stewart and didn’t, with all due respect to Rod, he’s a great artist, obviously.

Warwick: Yeah.

Tavis: But that particular song didn’t hit at all.

Warwick: Exactly.

Tavis: You come back behind it with your friends and it just kills.

Warwick: Well, that’s what it’s about. It’s about being a friend, and I think the beauty of that song is that it’s not only because it’s, of course, helping the AIDS situation, it’s being used at births, at graduations, at parties for friends who are going away or coming home, and it’s taken on a whole new genre of what it really is all about.

Tavis: Since you love the live stuff, you going to be doing some of this “Only Trust Your Heart” on the road?

Warwick: Absolutely.

Tavis: Yeah?

Warwick: Yeah, we’re already doing it.

Tavis: You’re already out?

Warwick: It’s been so wonderfully accepted.

Tavis: Yeah, well, I got to get a copy of the dates.

Warwick: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: So I can make my way.

Warwick: Well, we’re going to be in Palm Springs day after tomorrow.

Tavis: Oh, cool. I’ll find you.

Warwick: Yeah.

Tavis: I’ll find you. You’ll be out for a while.

Warwick: Yes, I will. (Laughs)

Tavis: The crowd won’t let you go home too soon, not when you’re singing standards like these.

Warwick: Yeah.

Tavis: The new project from Dionne Warwick is called “Only Trust Your Heart.” Celebrating now 50 wonderful years in the music business, and for the first time ever, a record of these kinds of jazz standards. You will love it. Add it to your collection. Dionne Warwick, always a delight to have you on this program.

Warwick: Thank you, darling.

Tavis: Thank you.

Warwick: Oh, you know what I wanted to do, too?

Tavis: Yes, sure.

Warwick: If you get a chance, to go on your computer and go to a little place called DoozyCards. They’re greeting cards, and I have my own line of cards now.

Tavis: You’ve got greeting cards now?

Warwick: Yeah.

Tavis: Look at you, see? (Laughter) When you find time to do greeting cards, I don’t even know.

Warwick: They’re e-cards and they’re lovely. They’re doing such a wonderful job.

Tavis: I promise you I will check it out, along with the dates of when you’re going to be in concert.

Warwick: You got it.

Tavis: Good to have you on.

Warwick: Thank you.

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Last modified: May 25, 2011 at 3:53 pm