It must have been tough growing up around star power as bright as Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston and Whitney Houston. But Dee Dee Warwick—Dionne’s kid sister, Cissy’s niece, and Whitney’s cousin—could hold her own. She was a two-time Grammy nominee for “Foolish Fool” and “She Didn’t Know.”
Dee Dee, who died at 63 five years ago today, was born Delia Mae Warrick on Sept. 25, 1945 in East Orange, N.J. She and her siblings—Dionne and brother Mancel, Jr. who was killed in an accident in 1968—were of African-American, Native American, Brazilian and Dutch descent. Dee Dee was as beautiful to look at as to listen to.
Her family was prominent in the gospel community: her father, Mancel Warrick, was a gospel promoter for Chess Records while her mother, Lee Drinkard Warrick, managed gospel group The Drinkard Singers, which included Lee’s sister Cissy Houston. The Warrick sisters and their Aunt Cissy sang together in the church choir before forming the Gospelaires, a trio that performed in church and on gospel recording sessions.
According to Wikipedia, the Gospelaires and The Drinkard Singers were performing at the Apollo Theater when the Warrick sisters were recruited for recording sessions in New York. During the next decade, Dee Dee and her sister were in demand as session singers, recording with Garnet Mimms, the Drifters, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and Nina Simone.
After elder sister Dionne was signed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in early 1963, Dee Dee signed up with songwriting-production team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It was during this time that both sisters changed their last name to Warwick.
Several of the songs Dee Dee recorded met with some success, but didn’t become big hits until recorded by other artists. Her first Leiber and Stoller single “You’re No Good,” released in 1963, became a bigger hit for Betty Everett in 1964 and reached No. 1 for Linda Ronstadt in 1975.
Her recording of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” reached the top 20 on the R&B chart, but the version Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations performed together went to No. 2 on the pop chart. Warwick sang the song in 1999 when she received a Pioneer Award at the Rhythm and Blues Foundation awards ceremony.
In the 1970s and ’80s Dee Dee recorded for a handful of studios—Mercury, Atco, Criteria, Private Stock and RCA Victor—with moderate success. Of Atco she said, “The problem was simply, that the company had a lot of other big female acts—like Aretha [Franklin] and Roberta [Flack]—and you get into a situation, where you don’t get the right kind of material or production or promotion.”
She sang background for her sister Dionne in concert in 2006 and the next year was part of the “Family First” song with Dionne, Whitney, and Cissy in Tyler Perry’s movie Daddy’s Little Girls.
The year of her death, she was featured on the title song on Dionne’s gospel album, Why We Sing, and sang background for Dionne’s one-woman show in Europe. But, like her cousin Whitney Houston, Dee Dee had battled addiction to drugs for years and her health was clearly failing for several months before her death in a New Jersey nursing home. Dionne was by her bedside when she died.
Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called “Living with Grief.”