Dionne Warwick, 50 Years In Music And Still Going Strong

She is one of the most recognizable voices in American music. And after 50 years in entertainment, Grammy award-winning singer Dionne Warwick is showing no signs of slowing down. She recently starred in the new season of the hit TV show, "'Celebrity Apprentice" and she's back with a new album. Host Michel Martin speaks with the legendary artist about her album, entitled "Only Trust Your Heart" and her latest career plans.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

She has one of the most recognizable voices in American music. She began singing gospel, but became a pop performer in the 1960s. That led to chart-topping hits across the decades, including "Walk on By," "Then Came You" and "That's What Friends are For." That voice has earned her five Grammy Awards, and she's currently celebrating 50 years in entertainment. And now she's back with a new album of classic tunes from the Great American Songbook. Here's the title track, "Only Trust Your Heart."

(Soundbite of song, "Only Trust Your Heart")

Ms. DIONNE WARWICK (Singer): (Singing) Never trust the stars when you're about to fall in love. Look for hidden signs before you start to sigh.

MARTIN: Who else could I be talking about but Dionne Warwick? And she joins us now from our bureau in New York.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. WARWICK: Thank you for inviting me.

MARTIN: Now this isn't your first time taking on the standards. You released "Dionne Warwick Sings Cole Porter" back in 1990, and you've done a number of albums of film and Broadway music. What inspired this album?

Ms. WARWICK: Well, it appeared that the company was looking for someone to sing Sammy Cahn's songbook. And since they owned the catalog, they were looking for the right voice, and apparently, they think they found it. And that's me.

MARTIN: How did it feel trying these on for size? Comfortable fit?

Ms. WARWICK: Oh, yeah. It was wonderful. You know, when you're singing lovely melodies and wonderful words, it's very easy to do.

MARTIN: Now, here's a song I wanted to play a short piece from: "I'm A Fool To Want You."

Ms. WARWICK: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And previously sung by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday. I just wanted to hear your version, and then I want to talk to you about whether there's any song of yours that you do not want people messing with. And here it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WARWICK: OK.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm A Fool To Want You")

Ms. WARWICK: (Singing) I'm a fool to want you. I'm a fool to want you. To want a love, a love that can't be true, a love that's there for others, too. I'm a fool to hold you.

MARTIN: Well, I'm convinced.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WARWICK: That's a good thing to hear.

MARTIN: Well, what about that? Is there a song of yours that you think, just don't mess with it? I got this. It's perfect the way it is. I got this.

Ms. WARWICK: Well, no, not really. You know, I think that's probably the highest compliment that can be paid a recording artist, is when another recording artist or anyone wishes to sing a song which you've recorded.

MARTIN: Is it true that "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" - which is a song I bet a lot of us can play it in our heads right now. I mean, I'm hearing it...

Ms. WARWICK: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...in my head as we are speaking. Is it true that you didn't even really like that song at first? Is that true?

Ms. WARWICK: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of song, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose")

Ms. WARWICK: (Singing) Do you know the way to San Jose? I've been away so long, I may go wrong and lose my way. Do you know the way to San Jose? I'm going back to find...

All those beautiful lyrics that I have sung of Hal David's, the last thing that I ever expected him to want me to sing is whoa, whoa, whoa-whoa, whoa-whoa, whoa.

(Soundbite of song, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose")

Ms. WARWICK: (Singing) Whoa, whoa, whoa-whoa, whoa, whoa-whoa, whoa. Do you know the way to San Jose? Whoa, whoa, whoa-whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa-whoa, whoa.

And I just thought: This is not the kind of song I should be singing of theirs.

MARTIN: You thought it was dumb.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: It's such a dumb...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WARWICK: I didn't say that. You did.

MARTIN: Well, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose")

Ms. WARWICK: (Singing) Oh, LA is a great, big freeway. Put a hundred down and buy a car. In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star.

MARTIN: You had a very special relationship with composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David...

Ms. WARWICK: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...and teamed up with them for many of your hits. How did the partnership develop with, you know, the three of you? It just seemed like your voice fit their songs like a hand to a glove.

Ms. WARWICK: And, you know, I met Burt first. He had written a song with Bob Hilliard called "Mexican Divorce" for The Drifters, and my group was doing the background on this particular session. And after the session, he approached me and asked if I would be interested in doing more demonstration records of songs that he would be writing with a new songwriting partner, Hal David. And I said yeah, okay. Let's get it on. And that was the beginning of what became known in the industry as the triangle marriage that worked.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And do you have a favorite of theirs that - for which you are so well-known?

Ms. WARWICK: You know, every single one of the songs, because it - first of all, they're specifically written for me. And I treat them as I treat my children. You know, you can't have a favorite child.

MARTIN: What's that like, having a song written for you? What do they do? Do they call you up and say check this out? Or how does that work?

Ms. WARWICK: It's like having a tailor make a dress for you. It's the same thing. They see something that they feel they can develop around you, and it's done.

MARTIN: Did you share that you didn't love, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" with them?

Ms. WARWICK: Yes, I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Were their feelings hurt, or did they just not care?

Ms. WARWICK: No, they didn't care.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: They didn't care. They're like, lady...

Ms. WARWICK: You're going to sing this song, okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Is there ever a song - you can tell us, just me - where they - you just said, I'm just really not singing that, forget it? No. I ain't doing it.

Ms. WARWICK: Yeah. I tried it with "Heartbreaker," too. And between Clive Davis and Barry Gibb, I didn't stand a chance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Everybody loves that song. How come you didn't like that one?

Ms. WARWICK: Same reason.

MARTIN: You thought it was kind of dumb. A little...

Ms. WARWICK: It sounded like the Bee Gees, first of all. It sounded like something that they should have recorded. And I've got to say, you know, as with "San Jose," cried all the way to the bank.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Excuse me.

Ms. WARWICK: I am not a cry teary(ph).

(Soundbite of song, "Heartbreaker")

Ms. WARWICK: (Singing) Why do you have to be a heartbreaker? Is it a lesson that I never knew? Got to get out of the spell that I'm under, my love for you.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. I'm don't even need to tell you who I'm talking to. You can hear that voice and you know. Her new album is "Only Trust Your Heart," but just in case you think I'm teasing you, it is the legendary Dionne Warwick.

But I understand that you've signed on to the latest season of the "Celebrity Apprentice."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WARWICK: Yeah.

MARTIN: What are you doing?

Ms. WARWICK: I can't talk to you about that.

MARTIN: You can't talk about that?

Ms. WARWICK: No.

MARTIN: How - it's a secret?

Ms. WARWICK: Well, you know how that is.

MARTIN: No, I really don't. I don't.

Ms. WARWICK: Well, what - they've asked us not to say too much about it until they make the official announcements - I mean, across-the-board and show segments and da, da, da, da.

MARTIN: Is it fun?

Ms. WARWICK: It was different.

MARTIN: It was different?

Ms. WARWICK: Mm-hmm. Very interesting.

MARTIN: Really?

Ms. WARWICK: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm just having trouble picturing it. I just don't understand why you would put yourself in a position to be fired. Who's going to fire you?

Ms. WARWICK: I did.

MARTIN: Oh. Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. WARWICK: Okay?

MARTIN: But it was interesting.

Ms. WARWICK: Yes, it was. It was quite interesting.

MARTIN: Okay. All right. Well, we'll check it out, and then maybe you can come back and...

Ms. WARWICK: And we'll talk about it.

MARTIN: ...talk about it some more.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I do have to, though - because I'm in Washington. I do have to get to a difficult topic, that American Music Inaugural Ball, very disappointing for a lot of people. It was set to take place during the week of the Inauguration. Your name was attached to it.

Ms. WARWICK: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: It was canceled at the last minute.

Ms. WARWICK: Yeah.

MARTIN: What happened there?

Ms. WARWICK: The hotel wouldn't let us do it because all the funds were not there. And it just didn't happen.

MARTIN: To your knowledge, do you think people got their money back or?

Ms. WARWICK: I don't know.

MARTIN: Don't know.

Ms. WARWICK: No.

MARTIN: Was it personally disappointing to you?

Ms. WARWICK: Well, what was disappointing was the - not given the opportunity to do what we had planned to do.

MARTIN: What happened? Was it not enough people bought tickets, or what happened?

Ms. WARWICK: No. No. It had nothing to do with that. That you're going to have to ask - there's the hotel. You're going to have to ask those that were in charge of that part of it.

MARTIN: Well, the reason I ask was there's - it's not the first time, though, that you've been a part associated with fundraising for charity or some sort of charitable endeavor that went wrong. There was an incident back in the '90s that I know was very painful to you, because you talked about it, where your fundraising for AIDS-related charities was brought into question.

Ms. WARWICK: Yeah.

MARTIN: You know, it was said that you had raised quite a lot of money, and only a very small fraction went to charity. And I wanted to ask what happened there.

Ms. WARWICK: That's not true. See, when you want to really know about it, you should ask the source.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. WARWICK: People speculate and they think, and they're going over it. Whatever they want to say, they say.

MARTIN: Well, what happened?

Ms. WARWICK: What happened was we did not raise a lot of money. That's what happened.

MARTIN: You never raised as much as had been alleged and said.

Ms. WARWICK: No.

MARTIN: No.

Ms. WARWICK: Uh-uh. And I think that's a major mistake that most people who are in the charitable business, when they say, oh, we're going raise X amount of dollars. And when that doesn't occur, that's when people start yapping, yapping, yapping instead of finding out what the problem was.

MARTIN: Do you think you did anything wrong?

Ms. WARWICK: Not a thing. The only thing wrong we did was not raise enough money. Okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, what are you involved in now?

Ms. WARWICK: The same old thing. I'm still raising awareness for AIDS. I'm very, very much involved with that, and will be, as I said, from the very onset of my appointment of Ambassador of Health for the United States. I liken it unto a train ride. And I'll be on the train until we have reached the last stop, and that is a cure. That's what I'm involved in.

MARTIN: What else are you excited about right now? I know you - you want to talk about "Celebrity Apprentice" because that's the one you're at...

Ms. WARWICK: Well, let's talk about the album. How about that?

MARTIN: Okay. Well, good. Tell me what else is your other favorite? I don't want to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You said it's like picking among your kids. I was going to ask you do you have a favorite...

Ms. WARWICK: No.

MARTIN: ...song on this album?

Ms. WARWICK: On this album? Yes, I do. "If You Can Dream" is one of my favorites.

MARTIN: Okay. And tell me why?

Ms. WARWICK: I discovered this song. I didn't know it even existed until I heard Lena Horne singing it. And I said, I want to record that song. Another one that's really a wonderful, wonderful song is "Pocketful of Miracles."

MARTIN: Oh, okay.

Ms. WARWICK: And we reestablished that song and did it as a lullaby.

MARTIN: Oh, all right.

Ms. WARWICK: So those are two right now.

MARTIN: Which one should we go out on, before we let you go?

Ms. WARWICK: Go out on "Pocketful of Miracles."

MARTIN: Go out on "Pocketful of Miracles."

Ms. WARWICK: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Yes? Okay. And Dionne Warwick's latest album is "Only Trust Your Heart."

Dionne Warwick, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. WARWICK: My pleasure, honey.

(Soundbite of song, "Pocketful of Miracles")

Ms. WARWICK: (Singing) Practicality doesn't interest me. I love the life that I lead. I've got a pocketful of miracles, and with a pocketful of miracles, one little miracle a day, is all I need.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

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