Dee Dee Warwick; Soul Singer, Dionne's Sister

By Terence McArdle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 24, 2008

Dee Dee Warwick, 63, the gritty soul singer eclipsed -- unjustly, in the opinion of some critics -- by her older sister Dionne and other vocalists who covered songs she first recorded in the 1960s, has died.

Ms. Warwick, best remembered for her versions of "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" and "You're No Good," both of which became hits for other performers, died Oct. 18 at a nursing home in Essex County, N.J. The family declined to provide a cause of death.

Dionne Warwick, working with producer and songwriter Burt Bacharach, developed a smoother middle-of-the-road pop style, but Dee Dee Warwick retained the rougher intensity of her gospel roots throughout her career.

Ms. Warwick recorded her first solo effort, "You're No Good," in 1963. Although the record failed to chart for her, a cover version by singer Betty Everett was a hit later that year. The song would achieve its greatest popularity in 1975, when Linda Ronstadt recorded an arrangement that closely followed the original.

For Atlantic Records, Ms. Warwick recorded the album "Turning Around" (1970) in a Southern soul style. A song from that album, "She Didn't Know (She Kept On Talking)," was a tale of infidelity in which the "other woman" inadvertently reveals herself to her lover's wife.

"She Didn't Know" was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1970, but Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn noted decades later that the record was "largely ignored in the pop world." He added belated praise for Ms. Warwick, who, he wrote, sang "with a soul-baring intensity that is reminiscent of the best of Gladys Knight or Candi Staton."

Delia Mae Warrick was born Sept. 24, 1945, in Newark. She sang in the family gospel group, the Drinkard Singers, whose members included Dionne, adopted sister Judy Clay, her mother, Lee Drinkard Warrick and her aunt Cissy Houston. Her cousin, Cissy's daughter, is Whitney Houston.

In 1958, Cissy Houston, the two sisters and Clay broke off from the family group to form an all-female group, the Gospelaires, with Doris Troy. After winning a weekly talent show at Harlem's Apollo Theater, they were hired by Savoy records to provide backup vocals on a single by saxophonist Sam "The Man" Taylor, "Won't You Deliver Me."

The Gospelaires started doing secular material as the Sweet Inspirations, working as backup singers on New York recording sessions for such luminaries as Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke and Nina Simone.

"At the time, I was making good money doing background work and demos," Ms. Warwick once recalled. "Around New York, our group had become known as 'Dee Dee and her girls' because we were used on everything, so going out on a solo career wasn't as much a big deal to me."

Of the original members, Houston, Troy, Clay and both Warwick sisters embarked on solo careers but continued to sing on each other's records. The group accompanied Doris Troy on her 1963 hit "Just One Look."

Ms. Warwick left the Sweet Inspirations in 1965 and signed with Mercury Records. She had her first hit with "I Want to Be With You," from the 1964 Broadway musical "Golden Boy," based on the Clifford Odets drama. Her other R&B hits included "Foolish Fool," which received a Grammy nomination in 1969, as well as "When Love Slips Away" and "That's Not Love."

She said her career was devastated by multiple knee operations. In later years, she worked as a touring backup singer for Dionne, and this year, she provided background vocals for her sister's one-woman autobiographical show, "My Music and Me." She performed on the title song from Dionne Warwick's gospel album "Why We Sing."

In 1999, Dee Dee Warwick received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, an organization that provides financial support for its performers.

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