By Eric Felten
Dionne Warwick, the multi-Grammy-winning artist who sold millions of records with hits such as “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Walk On By,” has filed for bankruptcy. She’s not only millions of dollars in debt, but almost all of it is owed to the government in taxes.
According to Warwick publicist Kevin Sasaki, the problems are “Due to several consecutive years of negligent and gross financial mismanagement. ” If that’s what happened, it’s an old story — musicians relying on the wrong financial managers, and unable to keep much of an eye on the accounting, what with all the traveling and touring that a music career demands. Who knows, maybe this will mean many more opportunities to hear Warwick sing, if she ends up having to gig aggressively just to make tax payments.
That’s what ended up happening to Woody Herman, one of the great leaders of the Swing Era. I had the chance to hear Herman and the final iteration of his “Thundering Herd” band back in the mid-eighties. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the only reason Herman was still on the road — some fifty years after starting the gypsy life of a musician — was that it was the only way to make payments to the IRS for back taxes. Herman had made the rather obvious mistake of entrusting his finances to a con man with a gambling problem. Never mind that it was the manager who had gambled away the money that was supposed to have gone to the taxman, Herman was on the hook.
Here’s the Herman band from 1964 — one of the years in which Herman’s taxes didn’t get paid. There may have been ruinous disputes over Herman’s taxes for those years, but there’s no doubt the band was cookin’ (and then some!):