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Everyone’s favorite Twitter user is taking a break from dominating the timelines of social media to commanding the silver screen once again! Decorated vocalist, musician, and producer Dionne Warwick’s new documentary Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over made its New Jersey debut as part of the 10th annual Montclair Film Festival. While Warwick has had no trouble connecting with the younger generation thanks in part to her charismatic personality, the film co-directed by her frequent collaborator Dave Wooley (co-author of Dionne Warwick: My Life, as I See It: An Autobiography and Say a Little Prayer) and David Heilbroner (Traffic Stop, Stonewall Uprising, and Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland) serves as a proper reintroduction because, with a career spanning over 60 years, 280 characters just won’t cut it.
After discovering her love for music in church at the age of 6, then formally launching her career as a background singer in her late teenage years, from music, television hosting to film there isn’t one piece of the entertainment industry Warwick has not mastered. This film which took five years to complete highlights everything from, “her singing career to her pioneering advocacy for AIDS research to her recent arrival on Twitter and beyond,” says co-director David Heilbroner in a statement.
Born to one of the most notable musical families in New Jersey (The Drinkard Singers, Cissy Houston & Whitney Houston), the original Garden State diva’s life’s work is surely something to be revered. From performing for royalty to being dubbed the ‘Queen of Twitter’ the legacy of Ms. Dionne Warwick is quite robust and in the words of co-director Dave Wooley, “should be celebrated.” With guest appearances by Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy, Carlos Santana, Olivia Newton-John, Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg, former President Bill Clinton, and more the film is a jam-packed jubilee.
So as the phrase goes, it is best to give your flowers to those while they can still smell them, the screening hosted at the Wellmont Theater did just that. Filled to the brim with eager fans of varying ethnicities and ages, the hometown hero was welcomed with open arms and a standing ovation. Immediately following the screening, Warwick and Wooley took to the stage for a panel moderated by comedian and television host Stephen Colbert to discuss the film further. Without giving too much away here are a few of the film’s key takeaways.
Dionne Warwick was the first African-American woman to win a Grammy award in the pop category.
When you think of Black women pop stars who comes to mind? Janet Jackson? Beyoncé? Rihanna? Lizzo? Well before any of those artists belted out their first note there was Ms. Dionne Warwick. In fact, in 1968, Warwick made history at the 11th annual Grammy award ceremony, when she took home the award for best contemporary pop vocal performance for her song, “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?”, making her the first-ever African-American woman to do so.
Dionne Warwick was the first African-American artist to tour the entire continent of Europe.
Many Black musicians have raved about the reception they’ve received from their international audiences including Eartha Kitt, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, and Bob Marley to name a few. But the first to win over Europe’s music fans was, you guessed it, Ms. Dionne Warwick. Warwick became the first African-American recording artist to tour the entire continent of Europe in the 1980s? During her time abroad she even learned the translation for many of her popular songs singing them in both English and the native language of the country she was touring. To this day Warwick continues to perform abroad.
Dionne Warwick was the first American celebrity to serve as an advocate in the fight against AIDS.
Over the last few years, Emmy award-winning original series POSE starring MJ Rodriguez and Billy Porter has done a tremendous job recalling just how severe the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s. While many of her peers were hesitant to lend their voices to AIDS awareness, Dionne Warwick dove in head-first to combat misinformation about the disease. Alongside her friends, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John, Dionne recorded the charity single “That’s What Friends Are For” to raise money for AIDS research and prevention of which all profits and royalties have been donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Although the single went on to win the best pop performance by a duo or group Grammy Award in 1986, Warwick is prouder to share that to date the song has raised over $10 million dollars toward AIDS research.
Dionne Warwick:Don’t Make Me Over is only showing for a limited time at select film festivals but as confirmed by co-director Dave Wooley the film is currently being shopped around for distribution at a major company as Warwick confidently chimes in “they’ll come around.”