On By.” “Say a Little Prayer.” “Anyone Who Had a
Heart.” “Windows of the World.” “Wishin’ and
Hopin’.” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” These
unforgettable songs are all inextricably linked to an extraordinary vocalist:
Dionne Warwick. With her gorgeous tone, nuanced phrasing and stunning emotional
range, Warwick remains firmly ensconced in the upper echelon of popular
Now this iconic artist, who has spent 2006 celebrating her 45th year in show business, revisits these and other classic compositions with a stellar array of female guests on My Friends and Me (Concord Records). This album of joyous duets unites pop veterans and young lions, R&B with country, vintage soul with hip-hop and beloved material with contemporary sounds.
Bringing 13 classic songs by famed songwriting team Burt Bacharach and Hal David up to date with cutting-edge production by Warwick’s son, acclaimed producer Damon Elliott (Barry White, Destiny’s Child, Pink, Eminem, Keith Sweat, Jessica Simpson), My Friends and Me pairs the legendary singer with such singular artists as Gladys Knight (“I’ll Never Love This Way Again”), Olivia Newton-John (“Wishin’ and Hopin’”), Mya (“Close to You’), Gloria Estefan (“Walk on By”), Kelis (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”), Reba McEntire (“Say a Little Prayer”), Cyndi Lauper (“Message to Michael”), Celia Cruz (“Do You Know the Way to San Jose”), Wynonna Judd (“Anyone Who Had a Heart”), Cheyenne Elliott (“Love Will Find a Way”), Lisa Tucker (“Then Came You”), Deborah Cox, Chanté Moore, Angie Stone and Da Brat (“Windows of the World”). Warwick sings the 1979 Grammy winner “Déjà Vu” solo.
“The prerequisite was not to destroy the integrity of the songs themselves, but to bring them into the 21st Century,” Warwick says of the album. We made sure to fit the arrangement to the person who was singing with me. It all worked out extremely well, and I enjoyed myself so much – it’s always easy to hang out with the girlfriends!”
Elliott assembled the tracks, skillfully combining the rhythms and sounds of today’s hip-hop, pop and R&B with the lush, symphonic approach of the original recordings.
“I left it totally up to him,” Warwick recalls of the instrumental backdrop. “As soon as he and his team came up with the concept, he played it for me. If I had any suggestions, I’d give them, and then we’d record it.”
“My mom is a living legend,” Elliott told MTV recently, “so I said, ‘Mom, let's go. I'm in the position where I can get any artist. Let's make this happen.’” Considering Warwick’s stature, they were quickly overrun with stars eager to share the mic with her.
Once the tracks were done, they spent several months bringing in the project’s myriad guests. “It was catch as catch can,” Warwick remembers of the period, “but we got everybody in to record vocals; it just worked out the way it was supposed to.”
She believes these new versions will give new listeners a way in to this treasure trove of material. “A lot of thought was given to who would be the duet partners, based on that – to give exposure to some younger ears,” she explains.
She began outlining the project several years earlier, at the beginning of a multi-year odyssey to hit stages in “every continent, country and city I’ve performed in during my 45 years in the business,” as she puts it.
While an artist who’s had sixty chart hits, won multiple Grammy awards and sold millions of records over the course of her career might be tempted to rest on her laurels, Warwick instead threw herself into this exhaustive itinerary – which began as a celebration of her 40th year in the business. “It was a brilliant idea at the time,” she reflects with a hearty laugh.
While on tour, Warwick
met with several interested labels to discuss a new recording contract.
“Four years ago, I sent out letters and gotten responses from potential recording artists,” she notes. “Some of their schedules changed, as did mine, so I lost a lot of people – but as my grandfather always told me, when one door closes, another opens. Fortunately the door stayed open for me to get some wonderful, wonderful recording artists.”
The first of these was Knight, reunited with Warwick for the first time since the Grammy-winning smash “That’s What Friends Are For” for an incandescent reading of “I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” Says Warwick of the R&B powerhouse, “I think I’m her biggest fan.”
Newton-John, meanwhile, was eager to record “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” which receives a bouncily playful treatment that effectively offsets the yearning vocals (and allows Newton-John to inhabit anew the sexily earnest style she showcased in “Grease”). “It’s a fun, fun sound,” Warwick declares.
Warwick heaps equal praise on her other duet partners, noting Mya’s “very, very special” contribution to “Close to You” and the quartet of “angels” who joined her on “Windows of the World,” which she calls “magical.” The latter song’s message remains a potent example, to Warwick, of music’s power to fire the conscience and stir the heart to action.
“It was written while the Vietnam War was going on; there was complete chaos in the world then,” she muses. “And here we are again, with another quagmire. Somebody needs to stop and take a listen to some of these words. I’ve been taught that there’s nothing so insurmountable that we can’t sit and talk about it and come to some conclusions.”
The new version of “Windows” features rapper Da Brat’s reflections on the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and other examples of global suffering and injustice, criticizing the government and calling for a better world. “I think her words are so apropos,” asserts Warwick, whose lifelong devotion to equality, justice and compassion are well-documented.
“I think it’s time people stood up, straightened up their backs and said what they were feeling,” she adds. “I make my second home in Brazil, and my friends there ask me, ‘What are you doing to your country?’ The world is watching us.”
As was the case during the ’60s, she believes, artists must carry the torch for positive, compassionate values. “We are the messengers,” she insists. “It’s OK – we’re supposed to give the message. My friends say, ‘Dionne’ll do it!’”
Her friends are right. To cite just one recent example, Warwick’s tireless efforts to preserve music education in school curricula were recently honored with the first SupportMusic Appreciation Award, which she received in Washington, DC this year. Her myriad other good works have included serving as U.S. Ambassador for Health and as a Global Ambassador for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
Warwick is already preparing the ground for her second batch of duets, this time with all male vocal partners; Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers, George Benson and James Ingram are among the planned participants. “My baby Luther passed away,” she says of the late, lamented soul singer Luther Vandross, “or he would’ve been on it.”
Warwick first hit the charts in 1962 with her defiant, impassioned reading of “Don’t Make Me Over,” and scored 12 consecutive Top100 hits between 1963 and 1966, rapidly emerging as the foremost interpreter of the astonishing Bacharach-David catalog. In addition to the songs mentioned above, she scored such hits as “Alfie,” “A House Is Not a Home,” “Valley of the Dolls” and “The April Fools,” and was the first African-American female artist to give a Royal Command Performance for the Queen of England.
She earned Grammy trophies for “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” (1968), “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (1970), “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” (1979), “Déjà Vu” (1979) and “That’s What Friends Are For” (1986). The latter song, featuring Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Knight, was not only a smash hit but a cultural landmark for its highlighting of the devastation caused by AIDS; “Friends” helped raise awareness and millions of dollars for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR).
She received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and was honored by Oprah Winfrey at the 2005 Legends Ball. In 2006, Warwick joined Bacharach to perform “Walk on By” and “That’s What Friends Are For” for some 36 million American Idol viewers.
With one duets album
out and another in progress, Warwick will doubtless continue to use her
voice to both hold audiences spellbound and to speak out for what she
believes is right. It’s what she’s always done.
to the track Close To You with Mya, the first single from My Friends &
“Walk On By”