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Dionne Warwick: Then Came You producer TJ Lubinsky grew up on the songs of Warwick. Not only does he and the “Walk on By” singer share a home state (New Jersey), but Warwick recorded her first background session with Lubinsky’s grandfather — Herman Lubinsky, founder of Savoy Records — in the 1940s.
And so, when Lubinsky found the opportunity to produce a special for his PBS series My Music on the singer, he jumped at it.
“You know how you hear a voice in your head? Hearing Dionne’s music is like hearing a voice,” he told The Hollywood Reporter at the Paley Center for Media on Wednesday night. He added, “And I wanted to share that kind of love and respect with her, because she deserves it, and I don’t think she’s been as recognized for what she means to the human condition.”
Lubinsky, 46, said that he felt he could shine a light on Warwick’s unique place in American culture. “So many Motown artists were influenced by [Warwick] and what she brought us,” he told THR. “But the thing is, we don’t think of her as a woman, we think of her as a person. We don’t think of her as an African-American performer, we think of her as a performer. We just respect her as a person.”
The special showcases the five-time Grammy winner’s five-decade career, from her first meeting with songwriters Hal David and Burt Bacharach to becoming a U.S. ambassador of health for her support of AIDS awareness. It features some of her most popular hits, as well as interviews with those close to Warwick, including Barry Manilow, Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson.
Warwick, who also announced that she is recording and releasing a new album, hadn’t seen the special prior to the screening. She watched her career before her eyes along with the rest of the audience.
“I feel like I’ve truly been blessed,” the 77-year-old artist told THR before the screening and talk with Larry King. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have people who have been loyal over the years to me and have enjoyed the music I’ve given them, as I have. I always say things happen the way they’re supposed to happen, and here I am.”
Since the special ends with an emotional rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For,” featuring Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder, King’s first question to Warwick during his post-screening conversation was: “How can you sing when you’re crying?”
“That was a benefit for AIDS that we did at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and all my friends showed up,” she explained, adding that she became so emotional because “I knew Gladys and Stevie were going to be a part of the show, and I was hoping Elton would be part of it, but he was also doing a benefit that afternoon in London at Wembley Stadium. When they start singing the song, they each would walk out with me and all of a sudden Elton came on stage. I was blown away.”
Warwick — who began singing at her grandfather’s church as a child — also reminisced on the origins of her chart-toppers, how she truly feels about “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” (which King loves, but she does not) and how she created a fresh style of music with David and Bacharach.
“We weren’t doing the normal music that was being done during our era,” she said. “It was so out-of-the-box, so to speak. We created our own little niche of music.”
“How would you describe it?” King prompted.
“Everlasting,” Warwick responded.
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