Dee Dee Warwick

Dee Dee Warwick

    Yes, she is Dionne Warwick's young sister and yes, they started out together singing gospel music at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey.  The sisters even started doing background sessions together in the early '60s, rapidly becoming the most in-demand session singers of the day, using those gospel-honed harmonies on hit records for Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Brook Benton, Little Eva, Garnet Mimms and The Drifters among many others. 

    With a vocal style that is a little 'harder' than her elder sister's and considered more of a straight-ahead R&B singer, Dee Dee never achieved the kind of level of recognition afforded her sister (who clearly benefited immensely from her association with producers Burt Bacharach and Hal David) but nonetheless made a significant impact as a soul sister of the first order from 1965 to 1975, scoring ten charted singles during that decade.  Born Delia Warrick in 1945 in East Orange, New Jersey, Dee Dee's earliest memories come from singing in church. She recalled in a 1988 for "Blues & Soul" magazine, "My aunt Cissy really pushed me to sing first since she was the choir director of our church when I was growing up."  In fact, aunt 'Cissy' (real name, Emily and later after her marriage to John, known to the world as Cissy Houston, who would later give birth to one, Whitney Houston) was an integral part of the family group known as The Drinkard Singers.     

    It was an inevitability that Dee Dee would pursue a musical career: the Drinkards were formed by Dee Dee's mother, Lee and sister Emily along with uncles Larry and Nicholas and aunt Ann and they were already making their mark thanks to pioneer recordings for Verve and RCA. One fateful night in1960, the group was performing at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. A producer for Savoy Records came backstage to ask if the Drinkards could sing backgrounds for a recording session with saxophonist, Sam 'The Man' Taylor; the family group were not available - but Dee Dee, Dionne and cousin Myrna Smith (later a member of The Sweet Inspirations) who had formed their own group (The Gospelaires, a junior version of The Drinkards mentored by Dee Dee's uncle Larry) were...and quickly made it apparent!  Within the days, the teens found themselves in the Newark studios of Savoy recording backgrounds for "Won't You Deliver Me" and as Dee Dee pointed out in a 2001 interview, "We ended up doing sessions for Savoy with other artists like Nappy Brown and Big Maybelle.  That was how we got started."

    With the help of uncles who would help them get out of school to head to New York for sessions, Dee Dee and Dionne quickly became among the busiest background singers in town, working behind the likes of Gene Pitney, Connie Francis and many others, sometimes singing with good friend Doris Troy or aunt Cissy.  One Drifters' session in 1961 brought Dionne together with then-up-and-coming songwriter Burt Bacharach who quickly whisked her away to do demos for him and his new writing partner Hal David: Dionne would sign a contract with Scepter Records and within a year or so, she was on the charts with "Don't Make Me Over," the first of many hit records and a career as an international musical icon.

    Meanwhile, Dee Dee added aunt Cissy to the permanent line-up of the ever-busy backing group and along with Sylvia Shemwell (blood sister of Judy Clay) and Estelle Brown, the singers were kept busier than ever.  Known as "Dee Dee's girls," the quartet sang behind Aretha Franklin, Esther Phillips, Chuck Jackson, Maxine Brown and many others.  It was only a matter of time before Dee Dee was offered her own deal.  In 1963, she did a session with chart-hot producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (known for their hits with The Coasters, The Drifters and others) on the song "You're No Good."  Released by Jubilee Records, Dee Dee's record was 'snatched' away by Betty Everett who recorded the same song and gained a massive hit with it. 

    Undaunted, Dee Dee recorded again with Leiber & Stoller for their Tiger label and even did a one-off single for the tiny independent Hurd label ("owned by some shoe manufacturer in Connecticut who wanted to get into the music business!" Dee Dee revealed in a 1996 interview) before Chicago-based Blue Rock Records signed her in late 1964.  Teaming with producer Ed Towsend, an artist in his own right who had his own hit in 1958 with "For Your Love," Dee Dee's first session yielded the upbeat "Do It With All Your Heart," "You Don't Know (What You Do To Me)," a song Dee Dee co-wrote ("I wrote it on the spot with Ed...") and "Another Lonely Saturday (Baby I'm Yours)," all included here. 

    It was her second Blue Rock recording date in May of 1965 that would give Dee Dee her first taste of real chart success: "We're Doing Fine," written by famed arranger Horace Ott (known for his work with such artists as Nina Simone) reached the Top 30 on the R&B charts and from the same session came the brilliant "Gotta Get A Hold Of Myself," a passionate soul recording that showed Dee Dee's ability to bring unbelievable intensity to her work.  The same kind of passion would be evident again in a 1968 session she did with Ed Townsend which resulted in the magnificent 1969 U.S.Top 20 R&B hit "Foolish Fool," possibly one of the most 'over-the-top' performances ever committed to tape!

    At the same recording date in May of '65, Dee Dee also recorded the song "I Want To Be With You," from the Broadway musical "Golden Boy" (starring Sammy Davis Jr.). Initially it was relegated to the "B" side of "We're Doing Fine" but after it started getting airplay, Blue Rock changed the "B" side (to "You Don't Know") and re-released the powerhouse ballad as Dee Dee's debut for the main Mercury label in August 1966.  In spite of the objections of the songwriter (who was not pleased that Dee Dee only sang basically four lines from his original composition, ad-libbing the rest of the song!), the record would become Dee Dee's biggest ever-hit, reaching No. 9 on the U.S. R&B charts and making it to No. 41 on the U.S. pop Hot 100.  The flipside, the pretty "Lover's Chant" was co-written by another soul diva, the high-octane singer, Lorraine Ellison; in the U.K., it was released as a single along with the tune "Worth Every Tear I Cry"  and the British release prompted a visit by Dee Dee in the spring of 1966: she appeared on the popular "Ready, Steady, Go!" television show and also ventured into Philips' recording studio in London. "I couldn't believe what they had there for me," she recalled in 2001. "There was forty-piece orchestra and a full chorus..."  Dee Dee recorded her version of "Alfie" which had already been a British hit for Cilla Black as the theme from the film starring Michael Caine. "I actually learned the song itself from (songwriters') Burt Bacharach and Hal David's original demo.  The whole session blew me away." Dee Dee's version of "Alfie" didn't gain a U.S. release for a couple of years, during which time - in an unfortunate turn of events for her - sister Dionne recorded the song and had a massive U.S. hit with it.  

    The 'official' U.S. follow up to "I Want To Be With You," the perky "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"  (released in December of '66 and backed by the beautiful ballad "Yours Until Tomorrow," a great song written by Carole King and then-husband Gerry Goffin) should have been another big hit for Dee Dee but it wasn't to be. It got some airplay and even made the Top 20 of the U.S. charts in early 1967; within a year, the song had been recorded by The Supremes & The Temptations, in the process becoming a pop classic.  Naturally, Dee Dee was not happy: she hoped that subsequent sessions would restore her to hit status at Mercury.  She worked with a variety of producers including Jerry Ross (the co-writer of "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me") in 1967, and Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, the architects of the '70s hit-filled "Philly Sound" but with mixed results.  Only one of several singles, "When Love Slips Away" got sufficient airplay and sales to make it to the charts; other sterling recordings such as "Locked In Your Love" and "Don't Ever Give Up On Me" (both considered 'Northern Soul' favorites), the excellent "It's Not Fair" (co-written by Thom Bell, songwriter and producer of hits for The Delfonics, The Stylistics and The Spinners) just never resonated with the record-buying public.

    It took a reunion with original Blue Rock producer Ed Townsend to give Dee Dee another shot at the charts: a November 1968 session resulted in the afore-mentioned "Foolish Fool" about which Dee Dee noted in 2001, "...I didn't like it.  I kept thinking, what is he talking about with this song?  I just got very creative and once I got into, I could relate.  Because at that time, people were giving me their opinions about my personal life and I was, to hell with it, I'm with who I'm with and that's my business."  The record earned Dee Dee a Grammy nomination and re-ignited interest in her career: Mercury released an album in the wake of its' success and among the tracks were "That's Not Love" (with another intense performance from the singer), released as a follow-up to "Foolish Fool"; "Don't Pay Them No Mind," a Lou Courtney production left over from a February 1966 session on a song also recorded by then-Mercury labelmate Nina Simone); and "Thank God," an inspirational song which was particularly personal for Dee Dee.  "My father came with me to the session and he actually co-wrote the song...even though he never got credit for it." 

    The last remaining songs Dee Dee recorded for Mercury in 1969 included a cover of Ben E. King's "I (Who Have Nothing)" - which she had originally done back in '63 for the previously-mentioned label owned by a shoe manufacturer! - and produced by Phil Medley of The Righteous Brothers; and the gorgeous "Ring Of Bright Water," the theme from a British film made for children and co-written by actress Betty Botley!).  Neither made any chart impression and by the end of the year, Dee Dee was on her way to Atco Records where she had another U.S. Top 10 R&B hit with "She Didn't Know (She Kept On Talking)." After a couple of years with Atco, she was back with Mercury for just one single release and then on to recording for Private Stock, Sutra and finally RCA (as DeDe Schwarz for one record!).  Since that time, she's been essentially inactive as a recording artist but in 1999, she finally got long overdue recognition for her many years as a soulful recording artist and performer the recipient of a prestigious Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.     

    [Editor's Note: Sadly, Dee Dee Warwick died after a long illness on October 19, 2008]

    Contributed by David Nathan

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