Marie Dionne Warrick was born in New Jersey, USA in 1940. Many of Dionne’s family were members of the Drinkard Singers, a renowned family gospel group performing in the New York area. Member Cissy Houston, mother of famed singer Whitney Houston, is Dionne’s aunt.
The group were in demand in music circles for their background work for artists. While she was performing background on a Drifters recording, Dionne’s voice and star presence were noticed by the song’s composer, Burt Bacharach. Bacharach asked if she would be interested in recording demos of his compositions to pitch the tunes to record labels.
Dionne was subsequently signed to Bacharach and David’s production company, which in turn was signed to Spector Records in 1962.
After her surname was misspelled on her first top 40 single’s label, she began using the new spelling (Warwick) both professionally and personally. Her debut album, Presenting Dionne Warwick was released in 1963. Her fourth single Anyone Who Had a Heart was her first top 10 pop hit (#8) in the U.S. and also an international million seller.
This was followed by Walk On By in April 1964, a major international hit and million seller that solidified her career. For the rest of the 1960s, Dionne Warwick was a fixture on the US and Canadian charts, with much of her output written and produced by the Bacharach/David team.
Dionne married actor and drummer William Elliott in 1966; they divorced in May 1967. They were remarried in 1967. The couple have two sons and divorced again in 1975.
In 1971, Dionne left Spector Records for Warner Bros. Records, for a $5 million contract, the most lucrative recording contract ever given to a female vocalist up to that time. When her contract expired, she signed with Arista Records where she began a second highly successful run of hit records and albums well into the late 1980s.
Dionne recorded a benefit single That’s What Friends Are For alongside Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder in 1985. The single raised over three million dollars for the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Dionne Warwick continues to perform and record and ranks among the 40 biggest hit makers of the entire rock era. She is second only to Aretha Franklin as the most-charted female vocalist of all time, with 56 singles making the Billboard Hot 100 between 1962 and 1998, and 80 singles making all Billboard charts combined.