Singers: Spreading the Faith

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"I wish," laments Dionne Warwick, 26, in. "someone would tell me where I fit in" That's easy. She is the best new female pop-jazz-gospel-rhythm-and-blues singer performing today.

Her disorientation is understandable. For years, the recording industry indiscriminately lumped singers like Dionne into the Negro music bag, or what the trade calls rhythm and blues. More galling still, the waves of British rock groups that thumped across the U.S. merely imitated the music that the Negro blues merchants had been performing with more style, heart and verve for decades. Now U.S. audiences have belatedly discovered singers like Dionne, Aretha Franklin and Lou Rawls and hoisted them to the top of the bestseller charts. The trade Journal Cash Box, in fact, named Dionne the No. 2 pop singer of 1966 (No. 1: Petula Clark), and currently her recording of Alfie is outselling the versions of 40 other singers.

Gutsy Growls. Like most of her blues mates, Dionne was raised in the "church groove," learned her soulful style when she sang in the New Hope Baptist Church of Newark, N.J. She has been spreading the faith ever since. During a recent tour of the East Coast, she attended services at the New Hope church, then drove her Mercedes into Manhattan to conduct her own kind of revival meeting at the Copacabana. Her songbook is a primer course in variety and good taste. Tall and wickedly curvy in a snug, deep-dish gown, she swoops down into gutsy little growls for Walk On By, soars up into high, hallelujah quavers for What the World Needs Now Is Love.

She shifts through patterns of intricately sliding rhythms with synchromesh precision, embellishing phrases with improvised dipsy doodles that make each song uniquely Warwick.

The architect of Dionne's success is Songwriter Burt Bacharach Jr., 39, son of the syndicated columnist, who discovered her six years ago when she was swinging doo-wap-dee-doo backgrounds in a recording studio. When she first appeared for an audition in pigtails, dungarees and sneakers, Bacharach was immediately impressed: "She has a tremendous strong side and a delicacy when singing softly—like miniature ships in bottles." Musically, she was "no play-safe girl. What emotion I could get away with!" And what complexity, compared with the usual run of pop songs. In Bacharach's Anyone Who Had a Heart, for example, she slides from a 5/4 rhythm to 4/4 to 7/8 and then, instead of the standard four-bar ending, finishes with a five-bar tag that adds a strange lilt and a choir-loft wail.

Black Pearl. Dionne recorded her first Bacharach song, Don't Make Me Over, in 1962 while she was a scholarship student at the Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Conn. After the song climbed into the top ten, she answered the call of her manager ("C'mon, baby, you gotta go"), left school and went on a tour of France, where critics crowned her "Paris' Black Pearl." Rhapsodized Jean Monteaux in Arts: "The play of this voice makes you think sometimes of an eel, of a storm, of a cradle, a knot of seaweed, a dagger. It is not a voice so much as an organ. You could write fugues for Warwick's voice."

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