North Jersey-born singer Dionne Warwick is the recipient of the 2017 Marian Anderson Award, Philadelphia City Representative Sheila Hess announced Thursday at a news conference at the Sofitel in Center City.
"Warwick … is a perfect example of an artist whose incredible talent and extensive accomplishments closely align with the achievements of Marian Anderson herself," Hess said, reading remarks prepared for Mayor Kenney, who was unable to attend due to a last-minute change of schedule.
Founded in 1998 and named after South Philly's famed contralto and civil rights activist Marian Anderson, the award is given by the city each year to honor artists "who have used their talents for personal artistic expression and whose bodies of work have contributed to society in a singular manner."
The 76-year-old singer said in a statement that she was "honored, flattered, and overwhelmed with absolute joy."
"I have received many awards during my 55 years in this entertainment industry and treasure each of them," she said. "However, I have to say, to have been considered worthy enough to receive the Marian Anderson Award has left me speechless."
Warwick is the second-most-charted female vocalist of all time after Aretha Franklin, with 56 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1962 to 1998, and the recipient of five Grammys. Her singles — many of which were a collaboration with songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David — include "Anyone Who Had a Heart" (1963), "You'll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)" (1964), "I Say a Little Prayer" (1967), and the No. 1 hit "Then Came You," with the Spinners.
Marian Anderson Award chairwoman Nina Tinari said Warwick's artistry was matched by her commitment to humanitarian causes. Warwick is known for her work as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and as a U.S. Ambassador of Health.
"Ms. Warwick's profound success in the music industry, combined with her determination to raise awareness for social injustices through her own public platform, makes her a noteworthy honoree," said Tinari, who praised Warwick's contribution to the fight against world hunger and toward AIDS/HIV research and treatment.
Warwick joins a distinguished list of Marian Anderson Award honorees, including Sound of Philadelphia pioneers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who won a joint award last year with West Philly-raised diva Patti LaBelle; Oprah Winfrey; Jon Bon Jovi; and Wynton Marsalis.
Anderson fought tirelessly against racism, most famously in 1939, when she was forbidden to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington because she was black. The case made headlines when Eleanor Roosevelt took on Anderson's cause, organizing a free concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Anderson sang for more than 75,000 people. She was a celebrated figure of the 1960s civil rights movement.
Warwick will be presented with the award Nov. 14 at the annual Marian Anderson Gala and Concert at the Kimmel Center. Tickets go on sale Aug. 18.
Marian Anderson Gala and Concert