When Dionne Warwick sings, audiences don’t just listen, they join in. Fans around the world know every word of the songs that have made her so successful and enduring: “Walk On By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “That’s What Friends Are For,” and dozens of other hits that earned her a shelf full of awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy.
At 82, still beguilingly elegant with an air of cool confidence, Warwick insists that faith has guided her to the top. “God walks out on stage with me every time I perform,” she says. Now the new documentary Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, debuting on CNN on New Year’s Day, captures the essence of what makes Warwick great. It includes a who’s who of the famous who have touched and been touched by her, from Burt Bacharach and Bill Clinton to Elton John and Snoop Dogg.
Jeanne Wolf: Even when you were very young, you had big dreams of making it to the top. You got there by learning from some of the best.
Dionne Warwick: That’s what I did. I’d go to the clubs. I would go to the Persian Room, where I first saw Diahann Carroll, and after the show we started talking because she caught me taking notes. I went to see Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, so many others. They became mentors. They just really embraced me because they saw someone who was sincere and cared so much about a career in a tough business. I don’t know whether I’ve been a mentor to anyone. Ninety percent of these babies today feel like they invented the industry.
JW: With all your achievements, you still rely on the guidance you got from your family.
DW: What keeps coming back to me is something my grandfather said to me once as I was running around the house with a big old frown on my face. He said, “Dionne, what are you frowning about? Frowning gives you wrinkles, and smiling doesn’t.” So I find laughter and smiling a joy. I love making people laugh and I love laughing myself. Now, I’m on Twitter and people tell me they love my tweets because they didn’t know I could be so funny. I don’t mind saying what’s on my mind. And that’s what I try to do.
JW: Now there’s a film about your life. What’s it like hearing very accomplished people give you praise?
DW: I saw the film for the first time by myself. It really is overwhelming to know how people truly felt about me and to know that they were saying things that came from their heart, not from their head.
There was one moment when Whitney Houston came on the screen that really moved me. I thought, “Whatever it was she attained was what God wanted her to do.” He said, “Come on home.” She’s at peace now.
I guess that is a philosophy that can give you a lot of comfort. Everything that I do, you know, it’s not my plan. And I say this all the time, and I know it to be true. Your plan is already in place, and once you’ve completed that plan, God says, “Come on home to your reward.”
—Jeanne Wolf is the Post’s West Coast editor
This article appears in the January/February 2023 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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