Diane Warren’s Songs Change Lives
The prolific songwriter and lyricist behind hits by Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton, Carrie Underwood and many others has shown music really can influence generations, change the culture and have an impact all over the world.
Diane Warren at the 2016 Academy Awards where Lady Gaga sang her nominated song, Til It Happens To You, which addresses sexual assault, especially date rape on college campuses. It was Warren's eighth Oscar nomination.
Warren is being honored Sunday, Dec. 4 with the 2016 Visionary Award at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards. This article was originally written for the awards tribute issue.
SHE MAY CHANGE THE WORLD BUT SHE DOESN'T LIKE TO CHANGE HER OWN LIFE
Diane Warren doesn’t like change. She has lived in the same house in the Hollywood Hills for 23 years, been a vegetarian for 20 years, still uses her Blackberry and for 31 years has had the same nearby offices and studio.
She stops on her short drive to work each morning for a blended latte. Her cat and 24-year-old parrot Buttwings keep her company in a cluttered office that she has called her “secret world.” She still uses a tape recorder to create both music and lyrics that is initially recorded on an audiocassette. She listens on an analog Walkman.
Still pixyish and youthful looking at age 60, she never married or had children. She exercises, has friends and supports charities, but much of her life involves long days making music that has filled the songbook of her generation with 32 top ten songs, two of which are among the most popular of all time.
She has earned induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame with hits including Nothings Going To Stop Us Now (with Albert Hammond), Because You Love Me (Celine Dion), I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing (Aerosmith), Music Of My Heart (Gloria Estafan) and Grateful (Rita Ora).
However, her world is about to undergo a big change. She is moving from what is now The L.A. Film School building, in Hollywood - where RCA once recorded hits with Elvis and others - to new offices and a studio nearby on Cahuenga Boulevard.
She will change her office address but not her technological approach. “All my stuff goes with me,” said Warren. “I have like ten Walkman’s.”
She also has had over 100 top ten hits, and her songs have been heard in over 100 motion pictures, earning her eight Academy Award nominations and five Golden Globe nominations. She has also won eight Grammy Awards and this past year her first Emmy.
Now the L.A. Press Club is honoring Diane Warren with its 2016 Visionary Award, created to honor “an individual within the Entertainment Industry who uses their high-profile status to make the world a better place and to spread information about issues of freedom and importance.” It is being presented Sunday, Dec. 4 at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards being held in downtown Los Angeles.
That is what Warren has done again and again. In 2011, a video of Beyoncé performing her song I Was Here (on her album “4”) was shot in inside the UN General Assembly, and then premiered on World Humanitarian Day. It was seen by more than one billion people.
Warren, nominated for ten Grammy Awards, won for "Because You Love Me"
Early in 2016, Warren worked with First Lady Michelle Obama on behalf of the “Let Girls Learn” campaign, to make sure girls all over the globe can get education.
Warren’s song This Is For My Girls, uses positive lyrics to empower girls and women to, “stand up, put your head up, don’t take nothing from nobody.”
Warren joined Mrs. Obama in Austin, Texas in March 2016, for the songs premiere at South By Southwest, performed by musical all stars including Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monae, Lea Michele, Missy Elliot, and Chloe.
"Diane Warren and this collective of powerful, talented artists have truly taken action in support of ‘Let Girls Learn’,” said the First Lady at the time. “I am thrilled that they’ve created this anthem for the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school."
Another song that changed the world was also a life changing experience for Warren. She wrote Til It Happens To You for Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s documentary The Hunting Ground, about the problem of date rape.
“it really gave voice to that,” said Warren. “Music is more powerful than anything. It goes right to your heart.”
Performed with emotion and depth by Lady Gaga, it became the anthem for a cause. It was also a landmark moment for Warren, causing her to reveal a dark personal secret hidden for five decades.
“You have no idea how many letters texts and twitter I’ve gotten,” said Warren, “and how many people I’ve met on the street who tell me the song gave a voice to people who couldn’t talk about it. It even made me talk about something I had never even told friends.”
Warren’s secret was that she too had been molested when she was only 12 years old. She had never told anyone, not even her parents. “You feel ashamed,” said Warren. “You can’t put that into words.”
During an event in New York City with Lady Gaga and the filmmakers presented by the New York Times, Warren “blurted out,” she recalled, “‘Hey, I was molested too…I had never said it publically before that.”
Warren huddled with Vice President Joe Biden, who appeared on the Academy Awards and spoke out about the problem of sexual assault at colleges. Warren said one thing she loved about the VP was that he "doesn't have a filter."
It was weeks before the Academy Awards, where the nominated song was performed by Lady Gaga and a chorus of real life victims to great effect. Vice President Joe Biden then called for attention to a serious problem.
Warren loved meeting the VP, praising him because he, “doesn’t have a filter. He has so much heart. He is so genuine. When he talked to me about my work he had tears in his eyes.”
Lady Gaga’s performance was the most talked about on the Oscars, and earned a standing and an outpouring on social media worldwide. However, the Oscar went to Writings On The Wall, performed by Sam Smith. “Not to say he isn’t great,” said Warren. “But this one kind of hurt.”
Warren with two musical masters, producer Quincy Jones and executive Clive Davis
Warren’s on-going passion is animal rescue, and it only begins with her vegetarianism. “You can’t love animals and eat them,” said Warren. “Like I hate Thanksgiving. It’s a dead headless bird on a table…It’s a turkey holocaust.”
Warren estimates 98 percent of her philanthropy goes toward animal rescue. “My favorite right now,” said Warren, “is Mercy for Animals. They do stuff for farm animals. That’s my passion. Its so terrible what happens to farm animals – the murder and cruelty.”
Warren continues to write music that supports important causes and subjects. Next year one of her songs will be the theme for Marshall, the powerful story of the first African American Supreme Court Justice. “It’s one of the best songs I’ve ever done for a movie,” said Warren.
Just don’t ask her to explain her process of songwriting: “I don’t know what my process is. I show up. I get to work. I don’t ever analyze. I don’t like to explain what I do. It’s magical. It happens. I work very hard.”