How Elvis Presley helped launch the career of Dionne Warwick

By: Ben Forrest
Source: Far Out Magazine
January 26, 2024

Singer, actor, television host and countless other job titles could be attributed to Dionne Warwick. The New Jersey-born musician reached a level of fame that can be considered legendary decades ago and has maintained that reputation ever since. It has not always been smooth sailing for Warwick, though, and it is possible she would not have reached her levels of stardom without the enterprising help of one Elvis Presley.

Elvis was already a global superstar during the time in which Warwick was rising through the ranks, performing with various gospel and R&B groups to make a name for herself in the late 1950s. During the 1960s, she witnessed more success as a solo artist, as well as writing songs that became hits for the likes of Cilla Black and Dusty Springfield - much to the annoyance of Warwick, who was insulted that UK audiences would seemingly rather hear her songs sung by white artists.

Elvis Presley Video How Elvis Presley helped launch the career of Dionne Warwick

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In 1969, Warwick started her Las Vegas performing career with a residency at the much-beloved Sands Hotel - located on the site of The Venetian Hotel. By this time, she was a successful and much-respected musician and vocalist - there was only one problem, though. Her opening night in Vegas clashed with Elvis, who was re-opening another Vegas hotel called The International. Of course, this eventually became a seven-year residency at The International for Elvis, totalling 636 sold-out shows, finishing in December 1976 before his death less than a year later.

Speaking to the Australian TV show The Project in 2018, Warwick recalls how she went to see Elvis rehearse at the hotel, accompanied by her aunt, who was one of Elvis' backing singers at the time. 'I just fell in love with this man', she remembers, 'I went to the rehearsal, and he was such a nice young man to me'. The singer and actor goes on to reveal how Presley had gone out of his way to give her career a boost.

Beaming with joy as she recounts the story, Warwick explains that Elvis had gone to every record shop in Las Vegas, placing photographs of himself inside Dionne Warwick LPs. Once he made the announcement on stage at The International that if audiences were to buy Warwicks records, they would also get a photograph from Elvis, 'I sold more records…' the singer trails off in disbelief.

The following year, Playboy named Warwick the 'Top Female Vocalist of the Year', and she performed in the prestigious Royal Variety Performance in London. Her career went from strength to strength in the early 1970s and laid the groundwork for the global star that she would quickly become.

Of course, the singer would still have been successful without the thoughtful gesture from The King in Las Vegas, but his efforts certainly gave her a boost and perhaps even introduced her to a new audience. Either way, the star still holds much love for Elvis.

Elvis Presley's show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, July 31, 1969

Dionne Warwick signed autographs at the opening of Elvis Presley's show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, 1969.

Above, Dionne Warwick signed autographs for the Elvis fans at the opening of Elvis Presley's show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, July 31, 1969.

Dionne Warwick Autobiography

As a single woman, I could always spot a handsome man. Elvis Presley was one of the prettiest - yes, prettiest - men I had ever laid eyes on. Pictures and videos of him really didn't do him justice. I once told Elvis he was pretty, and he said, 'How about handsome?' I said, 'No, you're pretty'. He fell out laughing. I will also add that he was one of the nicest men I ever met. The Sweet Inspirations, a singing group that included my aunt Cissy Houston, two of the Gospelaires, Myrna Smith and Sylvia, and Estelle Brown, were part of the background group that toured with him. He opened at the Las Vegas Hilton [sic] the same week I opened at the Sands. I went to the Hilton [sic] to see my aunt Cissy during their sound check. Elvis was there, and Cissy introduced me to him. He let me know he was a fan of my recordings, and this was a wonderful thing to hear.

- My Life as I See It: An Autobiography, p. 99

Articles about Elvis Presley The Sweet Inspirations
Interviews with or about Elvis Presley Myrna Smith
Interviews with or about Elvis Presley Cissy Houston Remembers Elvis Presley

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