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With her velvety voice and signature blend of sophisticated pop, soul and gospel, Dionne Warwick was inescapable in the ’60s and ’70s — and 2023. The singer who made history with hits such as “Walk On By” and “I Say a Little Prayer” is now a multimedia sensation. At 82, she is touring, recording with rappers, working on a gospel album and stirring a buzz on Twitter.
Her life story unfolds in Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over (Jan. 1, 9 p.m. ET and PT, on CNN; Feb. 1 on HBO Max). It covers six decades of a career challenged by social change and a volatile music industry, with a focus on her creative world and her advocacy for racial justice and gay rights. Burt Bacharach, Snoop Dogg, Elton John, Quincy Jones, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Bill Clinton share their thoughts.
And below, Warwick shares her thoughts about her illustrious past and present (and retirement plan) with AARP.
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What’s your one-sentence review of Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over?
I happen to love it. They did a brilliant job. It’s literally based on my book, My Life as I See It, and you’ll get to know who I am. And the reaction has been unbelievable.
How do you feel about so much focus on your history?
Why do people want to know so much about me? Enough about me already. The music should speak for itself. But people have to know what you did every minute. I feel that knowledge of my life will put to rest a lot of misguided opinions. There are other things that they will never know because it’s none of their business.
You had a lot of success, but you had to stand up to racism around the world. In some venues, white and Black fans were separated.
There were places where one side of the room was white, one side was Black. I sang to the folks who looked like me. That’s how I handled it. It never entered my mind that, because of the color of my skin, you’re going to have a problem with me or think of me as less than you. I had to laugh about that because those same people would lie out in the sun to get to be the color of me. How much sense does that make? It’s absolutely stupid.
Your songs straddled the worlds of pop and R&B, and many listeners assumed you were white. A French label released your 1963 record This Empty Place with a white woman’s photo on the cover.
I laughed. It was hysterical that the record company didn’t have a clue as to what I looked like. They assumed I was a white girl.
You've said you're not a rock ’n’ roller. How do you feel about being nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022?
I find it strange. I’m thrilled that she was nominated and inducted, but where in rock does Dolly Parton fit in? Back in the day, the Rock Hall of Fame was primarily for rock ’n’ roll artists, not every other genre. I think they should change the name of it and just call it the Music Hall of Fame.