Dionne Sings - Chapter 3

In 1966, at Penn State University, I was the treasurer of our jazz club, which, with thousands of members, was the largest in the world. Each year we staged two or three major concerts featuring high-profile jazz artists. These were always profitable and allowed us to bring in other, lesser-known acts. In 1966, on my 21st birthday in October, we brought in Dionne Warwick to sing. She was hugely popular at the time and had charted with “Walk On By,” “Message to Michael,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” and other songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
But for me, this birthday was a disappointment. My folks, who always called to sing “Happy Birthday,” did not. Only one person, my girlfriend Susan, said happy birthday to me all day. If turning 21 was the rollout to adulthood, it was a dull welcome.
But Dionne’s show that evening was stellar. She was in fine voice, her band was tight, and she sang all her hits. After shows we hosted, the jazz club board would approach the performing artist and ask if they’d like to join us for a party at our apartment in downtown State College. So we asked Dionne, who was accompanied by her mother, herself a well-known gospel singer, if they would like to join us, and she said sure.

Putting on a show for thousands of folks can be draining. Yes, you get energy back from the audience, but generally a show leaves you feeling enervated. But Dionne was warm and gracious, chatty and personable, a sparkling diamond of affability.

It was a sweet party, and a little after midnight – now we’re technically a day past my birthday – I saw Stan Lathan and Steve Gorn, president and vice-president of the jazz club, bringing a birthday cake lit by candles into the living room. I thought, “That’s nice. I wonder whose birthday it is,” because it certainly was no longer mine.
But they came over to where Dionne and I were standing, and Dionne led everyone in singing “Happy Birthday” to me. That’s Dionne and me, me and Dionne, Dionne singing, everyone singing, Dionne smiling, everyone smiling, Dionne and everyone singing Happy Birthday, to me!

It was a slice of 21st birthday heaven, a moment I will never forget.

The chapter in my book about this event, “Dionne Sings,” covers more ground, but there is a story behind this story that I’d like to share. You see, I sent this tale to Dionne just before I sent my book to the printer, in August, two months before my birthday, asking for her blessing in publishing it. A few weeks later, I received this note from her:
   Dear Bill,
      Good luck with your book, and thank you for including me.
      It’ll soon be that time again, so “Happy Birthday” in advance.
What a thoughtful and sweet soul Dionne Warwick is.