Why? As new documentary “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over” details, the singer did more than just fill countless eardrums with 1960s earworms. The 80-year-old star is a mother, activist, cousin and friend – with a boisterous Twitter account to boot.
Over a Zoom call, Warwick reminisces about her music career that transcended racial lines, at a time when music was as segregated as the rest of the country. “Didn’t (all artists) do this?” she laughs.
The idea for the documentary, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival Saturday, grew out of working on Warwick’s 2010 autobiography: “My Life, as I See It,” which she co-wrote with Dave Wooley. Wooley wrote the documentary screenplay and co-directed with David Heilbroner.
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The film covers everything from her upbringing in East Orange, New Jersey, to performing at New York’s Apollo Theater in Harlem to the European tour that sent her career soaring.
But before it could soar, people had to know who she was – which was a problem, given the record cover of her “Don’t Make Me Over” EP in Paris featured a picture of a white woman. When she stepped onto the stage at the Olympia in Paris, no one knew it was her until she opened her mouth.
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“I never looked at it as being anything extraordinary,” she says.
Warwick became first Black solo female artist to win a pop category at the Grammys in 1969 for “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” – though she refused to be pigeonholed.
“I fortunately from the very onset of my recording was never able to be put into a box. Because I couldn’t be categorized. They didn’t know what I was.” Was she RB? Opera? Pop? Jazz? “She is music,” Warwick says. “That’s what she is.”
DaBaby – “whoever he is,” Warwick scoffs – to task for his homophobic comments and AIDS misinformation.
“What he was doing was completely not only ugly but stupid,” Warwick says.
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Warwick was an early voice and advocate for AIDS research and went on to serve as a government-appointed health ambassador. Friends at the time thought she lost her mind.
But “our industry was losing so many people,” she says, includinga member of her staff. “I felt that it was time to figure out why we’re losing them, and those are the people that we needed most of all: lighting, sound, musicians, dancers, hair, makeup. It didn’t make sense that nobody was interested enough to find out why.”
Her 1985 cover of “That’s What Friends Are For” raised more than $3 million, which went to AIDS research. Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Elton John joined her on the tune – and also all appeared to give testimonials in the documentary.
Ego Nwodim’s portrayal of her last season).
“Sure! Why not?” Warwick says. Time to say a little prayer.
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