The singer first entered the scene in 1962, when she was approached by songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose songs became her leaping-off point. Before the decade was over, Warwick had charted with hits like “Walk on By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and “I Say a Little Prayer.”
Her career was hardly exclusive to the ’60s. She continued charting hits and collaborated with such luminaries as Elton John, Barry Manilow, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Barry Gibb and Johnny Mathis as her career progressed. Her soulful, sophisticated voice can be heard on the 1985 charity single “We Are The World,” and her trophy shelf holds six Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Still, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction has eluded here. Below we outline five reasons that should change.
She’s One of the Most-Charted Female Singers of All Time
Dionne Warwick’s name began appearing at the tops of charts in 1962 with her first solo single, “Don’t Make Me Over,” which reached No. 21. A year later, “Anyone Who Had a Heart” got to No. 8, and the hits continued to roll after that: In 1965, “Walk on By” reached No. 6, “Message to Michael” went to No. 8 in 1966 and “I Say a Little Prayer” landed at No. 4 in 1967. Warwick couldn’t stay off the top of the charts if she tried. Between 1962 and 1998, Warwick placed 56 singles on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, with 12 of them making the Top 10. Her immense success earned her a place among the 40 biggest hitmakers of the latter half of the 20th century. In 2018, she was listed at No. 20 on Billboard‘s Top 60 Female Artists of All-Time.
Her Vocal Versatility Was Unparalleled
Legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach first heard Warwick sing when she was recording backing vocals for the Drifters in 1962. He knew immediately that she had a certain quality to her voice that could lift a song from a page and turn it into something special. “Dionne had a singular voice that was perfect for us — young, earthy, edgy and confident,” Bacharach recounted for the Wall Street Journal. It was her vocal delivery that took Bacharach’s songs to a new level of appeal. “She has a tremendous strong side and a delicacy when singing softly — like miniature ships in bottles,” Bacharach said of Warwick in a 1967 article for Time. Over the course of 10 years, Bacharach and songwriting partner Hal David enjoyed 39 consecutive chart hits with Warwick.
She Paved the Way for Future Pop Stars
In the early ’60s, a woman standing and singing entirely alone onstage was still not very common. The British Invasion bands featured several members onstage; Warwick was a singularly solo performer. A lack of confidence would have spelled the end of her career just as quickly as it had begun, but Warwick leaned into the spotlight and established herself as a singer who wouldn’t be so easily molded into just another short-lived pop artist. Long before the likes of Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, Warwick, sometimes inadvertently, began to blaze the trail for future pop stars, shining at center stage in an era that didn’t always take kindly to women assuming that role. Her first solo single, “Don’t Make Me Over,” came after she told Bacharach, “Don’t make me over, man!” when he scheduled a song for another singer. He quickly wrote the new song for Warwick. She listed Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra as the singers she most looked up to. “They all said basically the same thing to me at a very tender time of the beginning of my career: ‘Be who you are. You cannot be anyone but you,’” she told Rolling Stone in 2021. “And I’ve never forgotten that.” Her self-reliant attitude moved her career forward through the years and set an example for future women in pop. Warwick walked so artists like Beyonce could run.
The Musical Contributions of Black Women Have Been Overlooked for Too Long
Women make up a small sliver of those included in the Rock Hall, and black women, whose role in the development of pop, rock and R&B music has been written off for decades, make up an even smaller slice. Warwick’s cousin, Whitney Houston, was inducted in 2020, eight years after her death; blues guitarist and singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe made it in 40 years after her death. For a significant portion of Black women artists, the recognition of their achievements often arrives far too late, if at all. “I was born and raised in the United States, and I will always love my country,” Warwick told The Guardian in 2002. “But there are certain things that have occurred that don’t please me a lot – the mere fact that I can be looked at in a different way because I am female and I am Black and how people can stigmatize me because of the color of my skin and the gender that I happen to be.”
The Trailblazers of Pop and R&B Belong in the “Rock” Hall, Too
While Warwick’s songs may not fit the typical “rock” definition, her achievements are no less impressive or important to music. The intersectionality of rock, pop and R&B is undeniable, and Warwick’s incomparable success along with her dedication to forging a path for women in the industry warrants her inclusion into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.