Dionne Warwick: Lending Her Voice
The Advocate’s Julie Bolcer, writes:
Almost 30 years have passed since Dionne Warwick and friends Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder recorded their smash-hit charity single, “That’s What Friends Are For.” The song generated over $3 million for the American Foundation for AIDS Research and heralded a new era of celebrity-driven fundraising and activism.
Some things have not changed for the New Jersey-born performer whose career has spanned five decades of hits, many composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, such as “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Alfie,” and “Walk On By.”
“Lyrically, it’s the same message of ‘I’m going to be there for you,’” said Warwick, 70, before a September town hall she organized on HIV/AIDS in New York City. “Friends are the ones who are there for you. That’s exactly what this is all about. Being human. Having humanity.”
The town hall, presented with Harlem United Community AIDS Center, drew nearly 200 audience members, most of them African-American, to ask questions and hear perspectives from leaders in the health, policy, advocacy, and religious communities. Panelists included Warwick, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph — a member of the original Broadway cast of Dreamgirls and founder of an HIV-charity called The DIVA Foundation—and Rae Lewis Thornton, the first African-American woman to tell her story of living with AIDS to a major publication, Essence, in 1994.
“Education is really the key,” Warwick said. “We have to know what we’re fighting in order to be able to fight it.”
She speaks from experience. Warwick lost her assistant to AIDS in the 1980s before the disease even had a name and before Rock Hudson had put a face to it. Her assistant, initially thought to be suffering from cancer, would be the first of many among her colleagues to face the disease.
“I’m a performer. The industry I am in has lost a multitude of talented people,” she said. “That’s when I had a very strong message sent to me to stop talking and start doing, and as a result of it, my advocacy started getting known throughout the country.”
These days, Warwick’s advocacy continues in communities like Harlem, site of her early gigs. The rates of HIV infection in some American cities rival those in sub-Saharan Africa, with young African-Americans hit particularly hard, according to the latest statistics for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Economics, nothing more than that,” said Warwick, when asked for her thoughts on the cause of the disproportionate impact. Still, she said that services have multiplied and improved over the years, and she encouraged young people to take responsibility, as she and other pioneering celebrities did 30 years ago.
“Prior to that, there was no place for African-Americans to go, which gave me even more strength to combat this thing,” she said. “[Today] there is help on every corner you turn. Take your butts in there and get some testing done and get some information.”
One thing she refused to do is blame the music industry. Performers’ involvement seems lacking today compared to 1985, but Warwick said responsibility should be shared.
“I really wish people would get a handle on that,” she said. “Although we do have a loud voice, and a multitude of audiences that we can relay information to, I think it’s the responsibility of mankind, period. Everybody has to play a part in this issue, as they do with cancer, as they do with heart disease, as they do with diabetes, as they do with any other devastating disease.”
A part-time resident of Brazil for some years, Warwick pursued global opportunities to bring attention to the fight against AIDS and combine that work with other causes. President Ronald Reagan appointed her the United States Ambassador of Health in 1987, and in 2002, she became the Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. She also selected the Hunger Project as her charity during her stint on The Celebrity Apprentice.
“The Hunger Project, and my position with FAO, concentrate on feeding and teaching those countries abroad how to potentially feed themselves,” she said. “The concentration is primarily that, and I do speak of AIDS during any of the times that I am actively involved with these hunger issues.”
She credits her religious upbringing and belief in the power of prayer for guiding her work. Warwick thinks faith can play a key role in the fight against AIDS.
“I was always told—my grandfather was a minister—that the reason we are on Earth is to be of service to each other,” she said. “I’m not fanatical about my religion. I believe in God and prayer and I think that it’s brought me a long way. So yes, I’m religious.”
Whether it’s due to faith or good genes, Warwick isn’t slowing down. As she enters her second half-century in show business, she plans on keeping up her philanthropy. Warwick says she owes it to her fans.
“I think that our celebrity is predicated upon the communities that support us,” she said. “If they’re going to support your career, the least that can be done is that you support and give back.”
Cher Sizzles At Pre-Grammy Gala
Cher World reports:
Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy gala was an evening that included a saucy and touching tribute from Cher, sizzling performances from the likes of Mumford & Sons, Cee Lo Green and Jennifer Hudson, and the typical array of dazzling superstars in attendance.
But the moments sure to generate the most buzz came from Whitney Houston and R. Kelly: both gave performances that bordered on bizarre, with two entirely different results.
Kelly owned the evening with an electrifying set that had stars from Akon to “Glee” star Jane Lynch on their feet, as he sang his retro hit “When A Woman Loves” and also dabbled through his rich catalogue of hits that includes songs ranging from “Step In The Name of Love” to “Your Body’s Calling.” His started his mini-concert off with the odd choice of the national anthem, though soulfully rendered, then in another puzzling moment, teased a bit of the “Price Is Right” theme.
But Kelly had the A-list crowd riveted as he ran through his own classics; by the time he ended his set with his soaring “When a Woman Loves,” he was receiving a standing ovation.
Whitney Houston, the evening’s last performer, also got a reverential response from the audience as she came on stage, looking dazzling in a silver-sequinned dress.
But her once majestic voice, though at times showing flashes of her former brilliance, sounded weary and hoarse as she creaked through a tribute to her famous singing cousin, Dionne Warwick.
“I didn’t have to look for the ‘American Idol,’ because she was in my home,” said Houston of the classic performer.
During a couple of moments, like her brief performance of “Alfie,” she seemed to veer from the rehearsed plan, and meandered on the stage. As a finale, she brought her legendary relative onstage as they both sang Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For.”
Afterward, Houston seemed like she wanted to get back on the mic, but Davis, who discovered Houston, grabbed her and joked: “I found you when you were 19; I’m still your boss!” He then bid the audience goodnight, ending that possibility.
Davis’ pre-Grammy gala has long been one of Grammy week’s most exclusive invites, and the crowd this year once again included superstars and legends from all fields: Warren Beatty, Miley Cyrus, Diddy, Katy Perry, Usher, Neil Young, John Mayer, Serena Williams, Sara Silverman were just a few of the boldfaced names in attendance.
They were treated to rousing performances from Grammy nominees Janelle Monae and Mumford and Sons, as well as Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson and “Glee’s” Matthew Morrison. Green performed the uncensored version of his Grammy-nominated hit “(Expletive) You,” as the crowd loudly sang along to the chorus.
The Recording Academy-event was also dedicated to David Geffen, who was given the academy’s President’s Merit award. The co-founder of Dreamworks is also a legendary and influential music figure and played a pivotal role in the careers of acts ranging from Joni Mitchell to Nirvana.
Longtime friend Cher, dressed in a sequined mini-dress, paid tribute to Geffen in a touching yet irreverent speech:
“When David asked me to do this I just wanted to kill myself, but you can’t say no to him,” she joked.
After lauding him for qualities ranging from his warm heart to his business acumen, she said: “I actually have no idea what this (expletive) award is, but whatever it is, I’m sure he deserves it.”