‘I want a Tony, an Oscar, and Emmy. Not necessarily in that order,’ Dionne Warwick tells me…
Dionne Warwick is one of popular music’s greatest ever stars – an icon with some 56 Billboard Hot 100 singles to her name. She ranks second only to Aretha Franklin as the most-charted female vocalist.
Currently celebrating 50 years in music, she is marking the phenomenal milestone with a new album – and when we meet in a London hotel suite it’s clear she is a lady with whom success sits comfortably.
What advice would she give anyone coming into the industry now, I ask, as we both look out across a blustery London skyline.
‘You have to work at it! It just doesn’t come to you, you have to earn it.’
It seems wrong to ask a lady of her legendary status if she ever watches reality shows. American Idol for instance, or X Factor. But when I do Dionne becomes especially animated.
‘If I happen to be surfing [channels] and there it is then yes, I’ll look at it. I’ve been watching your X Factor here and it’s an interesting scenario.
‘Those that are sitting on those seats giving judgement (that’s basically what they’re doing) – I don’t know if any of them have really had that kind of experience for long enough to be able to give true criticism and true advice, or true encouragement.
‘Those who are giving their all and are told ‘it’s horrible’ – that’s not the way to do that; you don’t destroy their vision, you try to enhance it and encourage it.
‘I look at American Idol and Nicki Minaj – Aretha Franklin should be sitting in that seat, or Gladys Knight, or Patti LaBelle; someone who’s been in this industry long enough to be able to give some creative goodness to these children. So I’m perplexed about it all, but they need to keep people watching so they try the flavour of the month and put them in that seat, so people will watch.’
Are there any young stars who remind you of yourself I enquire? The answer is an emphatic no.
‘No there aren’t,’ she states. ‘Or any of my peers.
‘I find it very interesting that these record companies want every female to look like, act like and sing like one person, so they’re clones, there are no real individuals who can just burst out and say ‘this is me’; it’s an interesting period in our industry right now.’
Dionne famously fell out with Cilla Black after she covered her song. How does she fell about singers covering her songs today?
‘What happened with Cilla and with Sandy Shaw and a few others here was that my recordings were not really given the chance to be played and heard prior to them covering it. That’s what went down there! Today it’s fair game for anybody – it pleases me to think that someone would want to; it’s sort of a back-handed complement.’
Has she ever got nervous before a performance, or suffered from stage fright?
‘I’ve always said ‘maybe I’m missing something’, because every icon that I’ve had the pleasure being in the same room with, such as Ella Fitzgerald – she was a nervous wreck before she went on stage, and Sammy Davis Jr paced. Maybe I’m missing something but I’ve been singing in front of people since the age of six, so it would be kind of late to get nervous now!’
So what does the future hold for Dionne? Is she still ambitious? Is there anything left for her to achieve professionally?
‘Oh just a Tony, an Oscar, and Emmy you know! Not necessarily in that order! But yeah I do, I want to do a great piece of television, and a wonderful piece of film, and my ultimate is Broadway.’
And singing wise, is there anyone she would like to duet with – that she hasn’t already performed with?
‘I think I’ve sung with everybody. We’re all friends by now. Earth Wind and Fire will be my ultimate duet. That’s my favourite group of all time. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when.’
As my time with Dionne draws to a close, what, I wonder, is the best piece advice she has ever been given?
‘Grandfather gave me my mantra when I was at the age of maybe ten, eleven – ‘if you can think it you can do it’, and I live by that.’
New album Dionne Warwick is out now. £7.99: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/now/id570075514
For more information about Dionne Warwick, go to www.dionnewarwick.info