In the course of her career, singer Dionne Warwick has delivered some of music's biggest hits, including the songs "Walk On By" and "I'll Never Fall In Love Again." Warwick reflects on 50 years in entertainment in her memoir, My Life, As I See It.
Warwick's story begins backstage, where she would carefully observe the performers she admired as a young singer. From that vantage point, she once took careful notes on a performance by Diahann Carroll, who, after the show, had asked her what she was doing.
Warwick tells NPR's Neal Conan her response.
" 'You're doing something that I really want to do,' " she recounts, " 'and eventually I intend to do it. And I want to know how to do it. So, you're here doing it — you must be doing it right.' "
Warwick also picked up performance tips from stars like Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn; but she credits much of who she is today to the examples set by the women in her family.
"My mom and my aunts were, and still are ... some of the most stylish women I've ever seen in my life," she says.
Soon, the young Warwick had a record deal. She initially signed with Florence Greenberg of Scepter Records, but their relationship was complicated. Warwick describes Greenberg as a maternal figure, but she also objects to how she was treated and what she refers to as "slave contracts."
At the time she signed her contract with Sceptor, Warwick says she didn't really know what she was getting herself into.
"All we were really concerned about was singing some great music and touring the entire United States as well as other parts of the world," she says.
It wasn't until Warwick's father took a look at some of the accounting that she realized she was owed money, which was later recovered.
But that was just a snag on her way up.
As Warwick's fame and influence grew, she made sure to help other rising musicians to make it like she did. She hired Stevie Wonder to write the soundtrack for the film The Woman In Red, but, because he couldn't actually see the film, she had to explain the action and look of it to him at a screening — and it worked beautifully. Wonder was so inspired when he got home, he had most of the songs, including his hit single "I Just Called To Say I Love You," done in just three days.