The richly melodic easy listening queen gets her due in Dionne Warwick: Don’t give up on me, a tribute by Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner to the singer who brought Burt Bacharach and Hal David into the canon of American songwriters. The kind of mellow pop bio-doc one turns to for learning nothing but to bathe in warm nostalgia, the film clearly doesn’t say anything that its subject matter doesn’t. (Wooley co-wrote Warwick’s autobiography and his children’s book Say a little prayer.) But it has enough enjoyable anecdotes to keep fans happy and, devoting much of her final third to non-musical pursuits, reminds us of the singer’s activism, especially her early recognition of the AIDS crisis.
Granddaughter of a New Jersey minister, Warwick followed the same path to perform as many black singers of her generation. She sang “Jesus Loves Me” from her grandfather’s pulpit at the age of 6; today, she proudly remembers it as her first standing ovation.
Dionne Warwick: Don’t Catch Me
The bottom line
A dazzling recap of a pioneering pop career.
We get a movie clip of Dionne, 21, soloing with a gospel choir and hearing a little bit about her family’s place in this world – her Aunt Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother, was a vital member of the family group that helped out. to launch Warwick’s career – but the film is eager to reach the secular world. And what better place for that than the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Few viewers will need to be made aware of the importance of Apollo or his legendary audience, but the film still sets the stage, bringing out Smokey Robinson and Chuck Jackson to remind us how easy it is to fail. on this stage. Dionne of course managed to win Amateur Night in 1957. Soon she worked regularly in a choir group, helping to pay for her education by singing on other people’s records.
Bacharach overheard her during a session with the Drifters and thought she sounded like someone who could be a star. He and David signed her up and started recording demos, one of which she said would be her first single, strictly speaking. Telling an origin story that she has clearly told over and over, Warwick recalls how she complained to Bacharach and David when they did “Make It Easy on Yourself” with singer Jerry. Butler; her complaint to them, “Don’t do me more!”, led directly to the writing of her first hit.
Wooley and Heilbroner didn’t care much about placing the successful career that followed in a larger pop context (you’d never know the British invasion turned the world upside down as she became a star), except to the extent where it shows her as exceptional: Several interviewees marvel at how comfortable she was in the white bread world of the pop charts.
Other black performers were also successful there, of course, and she was on tour with one of them, Sam Cooke, when she first witnessed segregation in the South. Telling a story in which she refused to play by the rules of a racist restaurant, the film shows a side of Warwick that casual admirers may not be familiar with. The singer likes to characterize this impulse in cowardly terms (“I told you, I’m crazy!”), But most viewers will call her defending herself and her values.
The film spends a minute or two relating Warwick’s experiences in Martin Luther King’s day to today’s battles against white supremacy; later, he will speak in much lighter terms about his public argument with rappers who called women “sluts”. (Snoop Dogg tells a funny story about being put back in his place at a 7am reunion at Warwick Estate.) But the doc isn’t done with the musical hits just yet. Between the general outpouring, interviewees from Bacharach to Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys and Gladys Knight offer insight into her skills as a trained musician, her striking stage presence, and her instantly recognizable voice.
Viewers have a lot of time with this voice and the many hits she sang before the movie turned into a record that did the world good: ‘That’s What Friends Are For’, a single collaborative benefit which, we are told, has raised tens of millions. dollars over the years for AIDS research. The film is vague about how the record came about (Who proposed it? Was there anything that made this cause particularly personal to her?), And it is even less interested in the details of other sad episodes after the singer’s reign in the charts ended. . Emphasizing the positive, he follows Warwick to events hosted in his honor by amfAR, to a school named after him, and to the Apollo, which placed her on his Walk of Fame. The pop style that made her famous is perhaps more subject than most to the whims of musical fashion, but Don’t make me anymore shows that Warwick’s music is far from forgotten.
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