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Allentown jazz singer holds Burt Bacharach's music in her heart

whistling-in-the-dark Denise Donatelli.jpg
Denise Donatelli
Denise Donatelli fell in love with Burt Bacharach's music when she was a teenager in Allentown.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — From the instant she first heard a Burt Bacharach song on the radio while growing up in Allentown, Denise Donatelli knew she couldn’t just walk on by.

As the legendary composer’s tune drifted from the 14-year-old’s radio like a silky breeze in the summer of 1964, Donatelli said, it spoke to her in innumerable ways.

  • Allentown native Denise Donatelli recorded an album of songs in 2021 by legendary composer Burt Bacharach, who died Wednesday at age 94
  • Donatelli, a three-time Grammy Award-nominated jazz singer, fell in love with Bacharach's music as a teenager
  • Donatelli ranks Bacharach's work with those of Gershwin and the Beatles

“The Bacharach song was ‘Walk on By’ by Dionne Warwick, and I was hooked,” Donatelli, 72, the now a three-time Grammy Award nominated jazz singer, said by phone this week from her home in Southern California.
She was reacting to the news of Bacharach’s death on Wednesday of natural causes at age 94.

“I was into jazz, and I used to listen to the Philly radio stations that played soul music," Donatelli said. "That summer, they played ‘Walk on By’ to death. I just loved it. That got me interested in Burt’s music.

“Burt was 94, so we knew this day would come. But it’s still a sad day.”

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The Associated Press
The music of legendary composer Burt Bacharach, who died Wednesday at age 94, inspired Allentown native Denise Donatelli to record an album of his songs.

Bacharach’s incredible string of hit songs, mostly while collaborating with lyricist Hal David in the 1960s and 1970s, cemented him among the more important and influential figures of 20th century popular music.

Bacharach was a six-time Grammy- and three-time Academy Award-winning composer who composed seven No. 1 hit songs. His songs have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists.

Recording Bacharach

Fifty years after the radio airwaves were a traffic jam of the Bacharach-David hits such as “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” and “(They Long to Be) Close To You,” Donatelli paid an homage to the master.

In 2021, she released “Whistling in the Dark: The Music of Burt Bacharach.”

"That summer, they played ‘Walk on By’ to death. I just loved it. That got me interested in Burt’s music."
Denise Donatelli, Allentown native and multiple Grammy Award nominee for jazz vocals, who released an album of Burt Bacharach songs in 2021.

The nine-track album includes such timeless hits as “The Look of Love,” “A House is Not a Home,” and, not surprisingly, the Grammy-nominated “Walk on By.”

Also included were lesser-known songs such as “Mexican Divorce,” “In Between the Heartaches” and “In the Darkest Place,” a collaboration of Bacharach and Elvis Costello.

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Three-time Grammy Award-nominee Denise Donatelli, a native of Allentown, recorded an album of Burt Bacharach songs in 2021. Bacharach died Wednesday at age 94.

Recorded in October 2020 in Los Angeles during the coronavirus pandemic, the album paired Donatelli with four-time Grammy-winning producer Larry Klein and an all-star jazz/pop quartet to deliver a fresh soulfulness to those Bacharach songs.

“I’m so thankful I was able to record his music while he was still alive,” Donatelli said. “Recording those songs was an honor. Larry and I must have listened to every song Burt wrote as we were deciding which songs to put on the album.

“Larry’s idea was to reimagine Burt’s music in a minimalistic way, to reframe them in a way that examines the essence of the songs. This is the first album I had done that didn't have arrangements written ahead of time. Larry had an idea of the vibe he wanted to get as we moved along.”

Allentown-area roots

Donatelli last performed in Lehigh Valley in 2016, at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown, while promoting her Grammy-nominated jazz album “Find A Heart.”

Her visit also was a reunion of sorts, as the Parkland High School Class of 1968 graduate was inducted into the school’s Distinguished Alumni Wall of Honor.

“I haven’t been back to Allentown since then,” Donatelli said.

She said she's “looking for new music to record. I’d love to get back into the studio soon. But today, I’m thinking about Burt and all that wonderful music he left us with."

Donatelli said she never met Bacharach in person.

"He’s up there with Gershwin and the Beatles," she said. "His music will live forever.”