It’s 1964. You’re tuning the radio in your Ford Falcon when a friendly yet melancholic tune makes your chest quickly tighten. All of the storefronts and street signs fade together, swallowed by swelling strings and floating horns — pierced by a single voice.
“Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick is a haunting ballad that drifts through the years, still catching each vulnerable listener’s one special heart-string (the one connected to THAT person, thanks for bringing them up, Dionne). It is one of those songs that holds that… thing. You know, that significant quality where you feel as if you have always known it, yet it feels new and breath-taking with each listen. It’s when listening is as synonymous with feeling as it can be.
In the song, Dionne’s expressive voice silkily drapes Hal David’s lyrics overtop one of Burt Bacharach’s quirky, jazz-influenced chord progressions. This is how the three of them worked for about a decade, dishing out hit after hit after hit. After discovering Warwick, Bacharach and David wrote almost exclusively for her unmatched vocals. She broke records (and boundaries) for the number of hits produced by a female vocalist, let alone a woman of color in the 1960s.
Sadly, Warwick is often overshadowed by her contemporaries, like Aretha Franklin, whose smash hit, “Say a Little Prayer,” was actually a cover of the original by Warwick. There are so many important and scene-changing artists who fade into the background of music history. However, artists such as Franklin and Warwick were all crucial in giving black women a voice through the far-reaching scope of popular music — something we still work towards today. Every woman who has shared their talent and art in the face of adversity as intimately and beautifully as Warwick should be remembered.