When Dionne Warwick comes to Washington, it’s not just to belt out one of her many classics in her signature sultry alto vocal range. The 76- year-old singer, Grammy-winner and AIDS activist always comes with a message. I found this out when I sat down with her earlier this week at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, where Warwick performed over two evenings as part of their 4th anniversary celebration.
Nowadays, the former Celebrity Apprentice star (who was famously fired by then reality TV star, Donald Trump) steers clear of political controversies. She'd rather lend her voice to uplift, instead.
Here’s more from our conversation:
WE ARE THE WORLDMarkette Sheppard: The all-star recording session for We Are the World sold 20 million copies and raised $75 million for the charity, USA for Africa. It took place 32 years ago on March 7 and, Dionne, you were a part of that along with so many other greats.
Dionne Warwick: We were there to make sure that people in Africa were able to eat. That’s what We Are the World is really all about... helping others.
A SOCIALLY-CONSCIOUS CITIZEN
MS: You were also one of the first artists to lend your voice to the AIDS crisis with your recording of That's What Friends Are For (1986), with Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight.
DW: We had a wonderful, wonderful time because we were all singing about something that meant something to all of us—friendship.
As it turns out now, it has almost been designated as the [unofficial] anthem for the AIDS problem, which is fine with us. We feel that if our talents and vocal abilities have the where-with-all to encourage people to become compassionate enough to want to help rid of us of this particular disease, then it was our pleasure to do it.
MS: I love that feistiness in you. That’s how I am—and I pay for it.
DW: That’s OK. We all do. Like my father always told me, “When the smoke clears guess who gon’ be standin’?”
MS: The feisty ones.
DW: That’s right!
WHAT DIONNE IS UP TO NOW
MS: Your latest project places you in the spotlight, once again, for the AIDS crisis. This time for ACRIA, a group that advocates for women over age 50 affected by HIV and AIDS. Tell me more about that.
DW: It’s not only women over 50, it’s young girls who feel that they are infallible—as many of our babies do. They have to understand that they are not. If you happen to be getting into that age range that is a little over 40 and you’re sexually active, then you have to also be cognizant of the virus.
It’s very necessary to keep that message into people eyes and ears. Education is very, very important and educating people about this particular disease is still vitally important.
I’m still in this fight. I liken it to a train ride. I got on at the first stop and I’m not getting off until this thing is cured.
MS: And here we are in Washington, DC, one of the most active cities in the world when it comes to raising awareness about humanitarian issues.
DW: Occasionally [chuckles]. I have found myself having to become very, very boisterous in getting people’s attention and paying attention to things that were absolutely necessary and [to things that] needed attention. So, not to say that they [politicians] didn’t actively become involved, but it took a lot of prodding. It took a lot of screaming and yelling and calling people out of their names, but if that’s what it took, then that’s what it took.
ON BEING A WOMAN OF A CERTAIN AGE
MS: Speaking of women, it’s Women’s History Month. What is your message to your contemporaries and fans of women who are in their Golden Years and see you still going strong at 76 years young.
DW: You have to, first of all, want it. There is an alternative and nobody wants that.
I enjoy what I do and I intend to keep doing it until it becomes a job. I never wanted to work. So when it becomes a job, that’s when you won’t see me anymore.
Markette Sheppard is host of Great Day Washington, the lifestyle morning show on WUSA 9. You can see more of her music and entertainment interviews weekdays at 9am on WUSA 9.