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Throughout your life, music has been your background. Hear the first notes of “Baby Love” and you’re 10 years old, sitting on your back steps in the sun. Listen to the opening of “Hot Stuff,” and you’re doin’ the Hustle in your memories. Hear “Chances Are,” and you’re ready for cuddling.
But what plays in the background for those same singers? Read My Life, As I See It: An Autobiography by Dionne Warwick, and you might find out.
Born just before World War II, Marie Dionne Warrick was raised in a diverse neighborhood where everyone got along despite their differences. Warrick (who always went by her middle name) loved to perform, and her grandfather, a minister, gave her the confidence to sing in church.
Many in Warrick’s family possessed musical talent, and some of them performed as The Drinkard Singers. In high school, Warrick formed The Gospelaires, and that group was asked to do studio back-up for other acts.
But Warrick stood out from the rest and was invited to sing and record on her own. By accident, one of her first record’s labels was released with a misspelling, and the singer became officially known as Dionne Warwick.
Throughout her career, Dionne Warwick worked with some of music’s best-known singers and songwriters. In this book, she writes about her early years and how she worked with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and the “triangle marriage that worked” until it ended in lawsuits.
She writes about rivals: how Diana Ross never displayed to Warwick the attitude Ms. Ross is famous for; how Warwick “was through” with Barbra Streisand and her seeming indifference toward her audience; and how young, up-and-coming female performers should dress better and with more class. She also writes about spoiling her cousin Whitney Houston, and supporting Houston’s career goals.
Warwick writes of mistakes (the infamous “e” she added to her last name on the advice of an astrologist, then dropped) and triumphs (re-energizing her career after disco almost killed it). And she writes of her passionate wish for the cure of AIDS and her tireless work toward that end.
The problem with My Life, As I See It is that it suffers from the same malady as do so many other stars’ autobiographies: that is, the seemingly incessant need to mention the names of every single person the writer ever worked with. You can well imagine that, in her decades of performing, author Dionne Warwick worked with a lot of people. You can also imagine how tiresome it gets trying to slog through pages and pages of shout-outs and brief anecdotes. Warwick then goes further by acknowledging childhood friends, the likes of whom few readers will know or care about. Yes, there are some amusing stories in this book. but finding them is a dual lesson in archaeology and spelunking.
I think, if you’re a major, dyed-in-the-wool, long-time fan of Dionne Warwick, you might want to peek at My Life, As I See It. For the rest of us, though, just “Walk on By.”
My Life, As I See It: An Autobiography
by Dionne Warwick with David Freeman Wooley
2010, Atria Books (simonandschuster.com)
384 pages, $25.99
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.