Ask Dionne Warwick about her family's musical legacy, one that spanned multiple generations and genres, and she says, "It was just preordained."
Warwick, 81, a six-time Grammy nominee who has sold over 100 million records and was recently nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, shares her memories of a dynasty that included such greats as Cissy and Whitney Houston, along with her sister Dee Dee Warwick and star soprano Leontyne Price, in this week's issue of PEOPLE.
"I come from a gospel-singing family. I was 6 years old the first time I sang in church," she says. "My grandfather was a minister and requested I come to the pulpit to sing 'Jesus Loves Me.' It was my first standing ovation. I had to stand on a bunch of books. Terrifying."
"My mother's group, with her sisters and brothers, was the Drinkard Singers, and they were pioneers, the first gospel group to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival and the first to record on RCA," says Warwick, the daughter of Lee Drinkard and Mancel Warrick.
One of the Drinkards was her mom's sister, Cissy, later known as Cissy Houston. "I called her Aunt Cissy growing up," she says. "Because we were so close in age, I always looked at her as an older sister. It was heaven when we all sang together."
Cissy Houston, 88, went on to carve out a singular career of her own, both as a Grammy-winning soloist and an in-demand backup singer to Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, to name a few. "Cissy had an incredible voice and that transferred to her little baby, Whitney," says Warwick. "Whitney came up exactly the way we all did, in the church choir. It was just preordained, she was going to sing. Her destiny was as was the rest of the family. As if God pointed a finger at us and said 'Let them vocal cords do what they got to do.'"
"Watching Whitney was like seeing Cissy grow up again. The voice; the dedication," she says of her young cousin whose voice would set the world on fire. "Every little girl that came along after her wanted to be Whitney Houston."
Now 10 years after her tragic death on Feb. 11, 2012 from an accidental drowning at age 48, Warwick says, "She had a presence that is still very much with us. Her music, her sound, her voice, that is her legacy."
"My family's influence is to connect with people on a level that everyone understands," says the singer who recently recorded a new song Power in the Name with Krayzie Bone and her son, music producer Damon Elliott. "Music is a healing force. It gives you purpose. The mere joy of it — that is the true meaning of what we do. I've seen it, and now again, with my sons."
David Elliott, 53, is a songwriter who cowrote the hit "Here and Now" for Luther Vandross, and Damon, 48, has produced tracks for Destiny's Child, Pink and Mya, "and he's producing my records now," Warwick says proudly. "All this talent is bursting out of my babies. I believe we're walking a path that was set for us."
Legendary soprano Leontyne Price, 95, is also cousin on her mother's side. "I met her for the first time when I went to see her sing Aida," says Warwick. "It was overwhelming. Oh my God, I'm related to you? We had a standing joke every time we'd see each other, 'Hey cuz.' To hear her sing, she carried that legacy, the voice, the same Whitney did."
"I came from a family who understands what our purpose is."https://people.com/music/dionne-warwick-on-legacy-of-cousin-whitney-houston-just-preordained/