Dueling Divas: Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick Sing Two Classic Versions of ‘I Say a Little Prayer’

Dionne Warwick:

Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick are two of the highest charting women in music history. Between them, they’ve made 129 appearances in the Billboard Hot 100. Two of those were with the same song: the 1966 Burt Bacharach and Hal David composition, “I Say a Little Prayer.”

The song was written especially for Warwick. David’s lyrics are about a woman’s daily thoughts of her man, who is away in Vietnam. Bacharach arranged and produced the original recording in April of 1966, but was unhappy with the result. “I thought I blew it,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1998. “The tempo seemed too fast. I never wanted the record to come out. So what happens? They put out the record and it was a huge hit. I was wrong.” The song was released over Bacharach’s objections in October, 1967 and rose to number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 8 on the Billboard R & B charts.

Aretha Franklin:

A few months after Warwick’s single came out, Aretha Franklin and The Sweet Inspirations were singing “I Say a Little Prayer” for fun during a break in recording sessions for Aretha Now. Producer Jerry Wexler liked what he heard, and decided to record the song. With Franklin on piano and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section behind her, it was recorded in one take. Franklin’s version has more of a gospel and rhythm & blues feel, with a fluid call-and-response interplay between the lead and backup singers.

Released in July of 1968, the single was less of a crossover hit than Warwick’s version — it peaked at number 10 on the Hot 100 chart — but rose all the way to number 3 on the R & B chart. Overshadowed at first, Franklin’s recording has grown in stature over the years. Even Bacharach likes it better than the one he made with Warwick. As he told Mitch Albom earlier this year, “Aretha just made a far better record.”

You can listen above, as Warwick performs “I Say a Little Prayer” in an unidentified television broadcast and Franklin sings it with the Sweethearts of Soul on the August 31, 1970 Cliff Richard Show. Tell us: Which version do you think is better?

Related content:

Aretha Franklin Performs ‘Respect’ Live in the South of France, 1970

The Queen of Soul Conquers Europe: Aretha Franklin in Amsterdam, 1968

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Comments (20)
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  • John Conolley says:

    It’s a tough call. The backup group gives Aretha’s version a lot of interest, and nobody can deny the power of her voice. On the other hand I like the smooth, easy way Dionne sings. She reminds me of Rosemary Clooney, in that she only sings the notes on the chart. She doesn’t ornament. I like that.

  • Rupert Fuller says:

    Dionne song with grace and beauty. Aretha turned the song inside out to find the hidden power and deep emotion hidden inside those simple lyrics. In my opinion god blessed us with both these singers and that song!

  • Anonymous says:

    Love the Dionne Warwick version. The tempo that Bacharach worried about drives the melody into your subconscious before you can erect a wall to resist it. You wind up loving the song on first hearing, which is not something that happens to often with a pop melody of such complexity. Aretha’s version is just fine for what it is, but you already know what it’s going to sound like before you listen: It’s an Aretha Franklin song, and she does her wonderful soulful schtick. It’s the old gospel road. But there’s nothing old about Dionne Warwick’s version. It takes off like a Mercury rocket, a bright, innovative pastel present from the optimistic heart of the 60s.

  • Tammy says:

    Dionne Warwick diverse vocal abilty hands down with Burt Bacharach’s harmonic compositional arrangements.

  • laura says:

    no contest – Dionne all the way!

  • Axlexander says:

    Dionne Warwick sung it beautifully, wistful, gentle with longing in her voice.
    When Aretha covered the song, it became passionate, intense, and vivid. Aretha used the beauty and power in her voice to make the song reach out and touch the listener.

    I Thank Burt and Hal for bringing Dionne’ s artistry to the public and I thank God for Aretha.
    I love them both!

  • Elizabeth says:

    No dis-RESPECT to Dionne Warwick, she is amazing, but I adore the Aretha version. I love the back and forth with the backup singers, who become the lead singers for the chorus and back to Aretha for the lead – so gorgeous, creative, I can listen to it time and time again.

  • Dave says:

    Easy, hands down, no contest Dionne all the way. Aretha has a great voice but she is a yeller not a singer.

  • M.R. says:

    I like the one from Dionne the most. I’m 21 and I like a lot of the good old music. Dionne’s version is by far the best in my opinion.

  • Mimmi says:

    Easy: always Aretha.
    Dionne doesn’t get any emotion. Just a lala-Song. She seems be very happy as the performance is over. Quit destressed.

  • qveen post says:

    Queen aretha franklin can out sing everyone

  • Bcc. says:

    Dionne’s version is mellow, romantic, optimistic, and lighthearted. Aretha’s version is screaming, boisterous, begging, demanding. As a Man, I am more attracted to Dionne’s version.

  • Tony Haine says:

    The sparse arrangement on Aretha Franklin’s version is just superb and the interaction with the backing singers is magical. It sounds like what it is – a live, passionate, one take performance. Dionne’s version is classy, polished and relaxed and has all the hallmarks of Bacharach’s striving for perfection that sometimes robs his music of emotion.

    For me, and for many others in the UK, Aretha’s version is the only one, having been a huge hit for her over here.

  • Fred says:

    I am a huge Dionne fan and have listened to just about everything she ever recorded from the last century.
    I also listened to most of Aretha’s output in that time period.
    Dionne hands down is smoother and more melodic vocalist. The nuances of her voice are intricate and she can handle pretty much anything her producers throw at her, including the sped up version of I Say a Little Prayer.
    Although I enjoy Aretha’s remake very much. Its very different . So in the end Dionne’s version earns a solid A and Aretha a B+.

  • Fred says:

    Aretha and Dionne are the top two female solo vocalists of the last century. Completely different vocalists and songs despite some overlap. Aretha remade some of Dionne’s classics with mixed results, Say A Little Prayer was Aretha’s best Dionne song. Her version of Walk on By and some others weren’t very good.
    Although Aretha had more hits than Dionne , I enjoy Dionne’s output more. Both were very prolific, but Dionne was more consistent. I can listen to Dionne 24 hours a day, yes she is THAT good. Aretha only in small doses.

  • Fred says:

    Rolling Stone just ranked Aretha as the best vocalist of all time. I would agree Aretha is one of the best. But Dionne’s vocals while not as powerful are more melodic and smoother. Totally different styles. Not easy to compare.

  • Jen says:

    Wow… seriously? Aretha is a “yeller” and not a “singer?” Please! Clearly, some people can LISTEN but they can’t HEAR! That’s called SOUL and she’s SINGING every note. I love both versions and always listen to both. I don’t think one is “better” than the other, because both ladies have their own distinctive styles. Dionne’s has more of a pop feel, while The Queen’s version is infused with soul. No comparison!

  • Bill says:

    Grew up in the 60’s as an early teens boy listening to those two ladies… Love them both
    Two distinctive styles… Shouldn’t,t be compared…..I’m in my sixties now….still love listening to that era of great singers and musicians.

  • G says:

    while Dionne’s version is sweet and dainty, me as a man loves when a woman sings to me from her heart! Dionne version is like a nice walk in the park while Aretha’s is like a roller coaster ride that pulls you every which way emotionally! She can emprovise so many different lyrics with her singing and tone and that interaction with the backup singers is so uniquely done it seems improvised and not written. Both versions are finely done but Aretha went from the bottom and blew the top completely OFF!!! Those saying Aretha is a yeller and not a singer—dont know Aretha! She has range in all phases of vocals. Bottom line is she CAN SING as well as she can get the party started.

  • Johnny says:

    I feel that Bacharach knew Dionne made a more musical statement with her version. Every note of the original melody is projected with good intonation and smooth phrasing. And saying that he favored Aretha’s version – that it was “far better” – probably means that he was flattered that Aretha chose to record it, and that it was “cool” and gave him extra “street cred” to have it released by Aretha. I think he was being a little silly when he made that remark.

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