Tag Archives: Dionne Warwick

A rather (un)comprehensive list of 10 Ladies of Queer Soul that you should know.

As I’m dusting off this blog and working towards crafting my lecture for the Queer Astrology Conference in March, I stumbled on this blog post from 5 years ago and thought it was time for a refresh/update and debate.

The inspiration initially came from looking at photos of Etta James for a “Happy Birthday” post then. I thought about how her iconic look was created/based on the drag persona of embellishing upon feminine virtues. She wasn’t the only R&B diva to openly create personas that borrowed or gave a knowing wink to their LGBT fanbase.

It’s not a new cultural phenomenon that began with Beyonce, Mandonna, Kylie Minogue and others. Nor was it something that our list of ladies of soul and pop started. Countless other performers along the gender continuum continue this kinship with queer fans as well.. It’s not a widely covered subject around this era of music, however.

So… here’s my list. What do you think?

1) Dusty Springfield
I think the most accurate description of Dusty Springfield’s persona was that she envisioned herself as “A Gay Black Mans interpretation of a female soul singer, filtered through the prospective of a closeted lesbian Irish Catholic with layers of catholic guilt that she tried to run from.” Her look, a combination of Italian Actress Monica Vitti, The Ronettes and Mary Wells via London West End Drag Queens is one of the best examples of porcine, over the top camp glamour that sets a precedence for drag queens to this day.

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2) Tina Turner
I rate Tina Turner highly in her 1960s caricature because she is remembered in this period as being raw, wild and sexual. It’s a trait that was rarely allowed to be visible in African American Women in the 1960s. Then again Janis Joplin was the only white female that was allowed real raw sexual power on record and onstage. This open display, however created partially by her husband-manager Ike, allowed a generation of Closeted Gay men to hope and believe that being wild open, and potent, sexually liberated, was possible if you wanted to be. Luckily for them the door started to open in June, 1969. Tina would have to suffer with Ike for 7 more years.

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3) The Ronettes
Their towering Bouffants (of actually their hair), Their Racial ambiguity (Veronica and Estelle being Black, Native American and Irish, Nedra being Black and Puerto Rican) and their far more blatant form of Coy Catholic bad girl sexuality made them as much unpeggable outsiders as Queer folk in the 1960s. All the more wonderful once they started having hit records, toured with The Rolling Stones (and were bigger stars than them) and had fans masturbating in the Audience. Who wouldn’t want that compliment?

Photobucket4) The Supremes (Especially Post October, 1966)
I denote the Fall of 1966 since this denotes the 3 year period where it was obvious that The Supremes were being used as Diana Ross’s launchpad into gay icon–err–Solo stardom success. The Chiffon gowns gave way to bugle beads and millions of sequins. More layers of hair and make-up were plastered onto Diane, Mary, Florence and soon Cindy to hide the fact that underneath the happy melodies and perfect dance steps, in the Spring of 1967 that the group was splitting in two. The songs became more baroque and ridiculous as well. Need we talk about “I’m Living In Shame” being Douglass Sirk’s Imitation of Life on vinyl?

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5) Etta James
As I said earlier, her initial choice to bleach her hair blonde was influenced by her gay best friend that she took along with her on her initial tours. The skin hugging dresses (despite her often size 12+ frame) and penciled in eyebrows that would make Joan Crawford jealous were the result of her love and affinity for local drag queens and trans women that made up her pool of best friends. And her raw, honest songs make her a twin in spirit for the reasons gay men grasped onto Tina Turner. I can’t give you the full scope of her long standing relationship with her queer fanbase, so it would be best for you to read her Auto Biography, Rage To Survive for a fascinating read.

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6) Dionne Warwick
She’s everyone’s favorite Ice Queen of Soul. The pretty, pristine, complex Burt Bacharach Songs, the slinky gowns, the tours of Europe, being the “Black Pearl” to French Music critics. The odd balance of restraint, hurt, the “closet” aspect of the rage seething underneath. She’s also a member of a super extensive, melodramatic music family dynasty that included her sister Dee Dee, Aunt Cissy, adopted Sister Judy, Cousin Whitney…on and on… If there’s a mini-series meant for Lifetime it would be about Dionne and her relatives.

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7) Nina Simone
I don’t know if I can fully say it has been more historical re-evaluation or delayed appreciation of her work by Queer and not so queer folks of all ages, blurring the lines between appreciation and appropriation. It seems appropriate for the Piscean High Priestess of Soul. Or maybe I’m playing ultimate cynic and there’s a sincere bond to the (Bi-Polar) High Priestess of Soul. Her songs, alternating between hymns, folk songs, battle cries and uptown soul, always done with the alternate of a twinkling smile and a righteous roar will forever attract new fans.

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8) Lesley Gore
She went to #1 across the board in 4 weeks whining about how she lost her boyfriend at a party. When I say across the board, yes, that means “It’s My Party” also conquered the R&B Charts with it’s unabashed scorned brattiness. As wimpy as that sounds, a teen icon was born, with a perfect Aqua-netted flip. Underneath the veneer of wondering about hetero-normativity, true sexual identity questioning happened, and slipped out at hilariously unintentional moments (See “Sometimes I Wish I Were A Boy”).
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9) Tammi Terrell
1) Who wouldn’t want to be the most glamorous Marvin Gaye duet Partner (and the only one to ever appear on Television with him!) 2) Have men fight over you 3) Die Tragically young and beautiful and 4) Leave men weeping for you?
Ok, maybe not the dying part, but Tammi Terrell’s short life is comparable to a Bronte Novel in the amount of beautiful sorrow. Solo and in partnership, her discography details with rich emotion all of the up and downs, ins and outs of being human. Thankfully, nearly 50 years after from the beautiful yet tragic final act of a woman fiercely determined to leave her mark on the world, this talented Taurus is getting the respect as an artist she was always due on her own, alongside the remarkable work she did in pairing with her handsome duet partner.

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10) The Shirelles
The Shirelles took over the baton from The Chantels. From extolling passionate, but teenage pleas of wondering about love, came  more adult, sophisticated, and blatant intertwining of sex and love that The Shirelles spun off with “Tonight’s The Night” and “Will you Still Love Me Tomorrow.” It’s healthy to believe that a few guys amongst the millions of women where those who made those records best sellers. “Mama Said” and many other countless musings where heard as templates on how to navigate the adult world for folks of all stripes, including queers wondering, if he’ll/she’ll/they’ll love them once the night met the morning sun.
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The 5 Dionne Warwick Originals Done better by someone else.

Oh Dionne Warwick… she had first access to Burt Bacharach songs… but… as great a vocalist she is: Delicate, technically proficient, and soulful enough… there are certain times where she was outdone by someone else on her own songs… not only chartwise… but… well, on a gut level

1) Make It Easy On Yourself
Jerry Butler (1962)

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Granted Dionne Warwick’s first cut version of this song was a piano/drum/guitar demo, in contrast to the epic Opera Soul masterpiece that Jerry Butler made it out to be with an Oscar worthy plea for honesty and angelic, crystalline background vocals over that shimmering arrangement. Her 1970 “live” top 40 hit version is nothing to really write home about either. Her original demo is, what will be a constant problem that I will highlight with each other song I present… is that it’s too “nice.” The irony of this being that in songs with similar subject matters she could tap into a aching vulnerability and provide layers to what on the surface was her cool aloofness (see why her original takes on “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “Walk On By” work so effortlessly). Then again… had her version not sucked… we would have never gotten “Don’t Make Me Over”

2) “Wishin’ & Hopin”
Dusty Springfield (1964)

(Here with OMG Martha & The Vandellas!)

2nd case of “too nice.” While Dusty starts out as neat and dignified as Dionne, verse by verse she gets less “patient” about sharing her advice, either out of the fact that she “knows” how to really conquer a prize, versus Dionne Warwick sounding like she’s reciting advice from Ladies Home Journal over tea and cookies. The difference is really obvious by the time Dusty does what I can only equate to a James Brown “Take it To The Bridge” on the bridge, which is just a gleeful slap in the face of 1950s prudishness about waiting to have a guy make the move. This is the moment that Dusty Springfield became enshrined as a Gay Icon, giving her West End Drag Queen friends a little faith for a better tomorrow, and getting the guy, while… well… Dionne kept the advice to a few sorority sisters.

3)Message To Michael
The Marvelettes (1966)

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I’ll admit that Dionne Warwick could tear this song up in a live performance, but something about the top 10 hit she had with it….
…. I really fault the backing track produced in France, which was also Dionne first production of herself, as the main fault. This is one of the few times that Motown did a cover song that worked superior to the original. The fuller backgrounds, the warmer bass and the extra grit of Gladys Horton’s plea, pours over smoother, and at the same time more mournful.

4) (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me
Patti LaBelle & The BlueBelles (1966)

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Dionne’s cover of the Lou Johnson/Sandi Shaw split hit is ok, soulful enough, but is produced in that stereotypical “Bacharach” way. I love the way Patti and the girls bend and twist this standard, in a lot of ways making it a follow up to their stop and go shimmering “All or Nothing” until it is a let your hair down workout…. which brings me to the ultimate smack down…

…5) I Say A Little Prayer
Aretha Franklin (1968)

Burt Bacharach himself said that Dionne’s original was too quick, tense and nervous (and plotted against it’s release for a year, finally being veto’d in 1967), But Aretha opens it up and lets the song breathe… and makes it a more personal conversation between her and the man she wants blessings for. One of those moments on record that Dionne Warwick seemed narcissistic and holier-than-thou (see! I’m praying for you! I’m an awesome girlfriend!) is made more of a shared thing by ReRe… and that interplay between her and The Sweet Inspirations (I Believe) is priceless….

Judge for yourself….

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It sucks being a little sister

especially when your big sister is international star Dionne Warwick. Hell, even the French call her the black pearl!

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enter Delia Mae “Dee Dee” Warwick

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I thought of her today since it’s been slightly over a year since this member of the Drinkard Music dynasty that gave us her, her sister Dionne, her aunt Cissy Houston and her cousin, Whitney Houston (*CRACK IS WHACK* sorry, you can’t help yourself with that now can you) passed away at age 63… and also how much it really sucks to be a very very talented person… in the shadow of your big sister, possibly because she’s thinner or more attractive.. or by the realities of birth order, just got to grab the brass ring first.

But Dee Dee also had the misfortune of recording great songs, for what I assume are labels with no idea how to promote them. Betty Everett can’t claim Linda Ronstandt stole “You’re No Good” from her (despite the extremely familiar arrangement) cause Dee Dee did the grinding original. Nor can Madeline Bell get all butthurt that The Supremes/Temptations version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” totally eclipsed her top 40 version a short 7 months later… since her version eclisped poor Dee Dee’s sweet original.

It’s enough to think a great soul sister should give up trying… but… then there were still stellar moments like her fantastic song about being totally embarassed by your husbands mistress, who has no clue he’s actually married, at a dinner party in “She Didn’t Know (She Kept on Talking).” I love how despite how angry and hurt Dee Dee sings the song, she seems most upset that her husband is fucking this brainless idiot.

The odd thing is, if you were to listen to Dee Dee not knowing who she was related to, you’d probably think she sounded familiar. Despite having a more deeply rooted alto than her older sister and her aunt, there is a similarity in tonality and phrasing between all 3 relatives that to me shows, “oh here’s a group of people that grew up singing together.”

Also, if you give her Mercury years a good listen you’ll get to see where early 1960s New York Uptown soul found it’s way up the Hudson River to Albany and basically died trying to absorb every trend in R&B within it’s smooth nonchalant gait, from Phil Spector pulverizing drumming (“You Don’t Know What You Do To Me” you can barely hear Dee Dee, a strong singer, in the center of the mono mix, a lot like the way he drowned out The Cystals) and weird Vandellas/Aretha hybrids (“Worth Ev’ry Tear I Cry”).

Long as she’s not the forgotten lil sis.. I’m totally ok with that.

(after the Gene McDaniels Phil Spector alike, Dee Dee sings her first two real chart successes, “I Want To Be With You” and “We’re Doing Fine.” We’re Doing Fine is one of my favorites)

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