Dionne Warwick Looks Back at Her Life in Parties

The R&B icon (and recent Twitter adopter) revisits the celebrations and friendships that have defined her career.

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Dionne Warwick singing on stage with the spotlight on her, in a long bedazzled dress
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Growing up in East Orange, New Jersey, in the 1940s and ’50s, Dionne Warwick was surrounded by music—both at home and in church, where she got an early vocal education before being catapulted to fame (above, Warwick performs at the Olympia in Paris, in 1964). One might even venture that her talent is genetic—Whitney Houston, Leontyne Price, and Gary Garland are all Warwick’s cousins, and her mother, aunts, and uncles, widely regarded as trailblazers, were members of a gospel singing group called the Drinkard Singers. After performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island in 1957, they were signed by RCA, making them the first gospel group signed by the label. Warwick says, “To this very day, I attribute everything that I do, vocally, to my ability to sing gospel. It taught me the worth of a lyric and of a melody. My relationship with my family stems directly from that.”

As Warwick gained notoriety in the 1960s and ’70s, her family’s musical profile grew too. The late Whitney Houston, her cousin (above, with Warwick at a dinner), met Clive Davis in the early 1980s and became an international superstar herself. Fame never affected their bond: “I speak to a lot of people who don’t have that kind of relationship with those that they grew up with, or didn’t have the pleasure of growing up around them, and I kind of feel very sorry for them,” Warwick says.

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Warwick has won six Grammys and has been nominated a total of 14 times. “I’m a blessed kid here,” Warwick says of the photo above, taken at the 12th Annual Grammy Awards in 1969. “It was a thrill then, and it still is. I thank the one I feel is totally responsible, and that’s my heavenly father.”

Courtesy of Dionne Warwick’s personal archive.

Warwick’s enduring friendships with Chaka Khan (above, center) and Aretha Franklin (above, right) played a crucial role in her life. “I didn’t even know Aretha was there until after the show was over,” she says of the image above, which was taken at the 20th anniversary of the R&B Foundation’s Pioneer Awards show in 2008, where Franklin handed Khan a lifetime achievement award. “We went backstage to the dressing room.”

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After working on demos with composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David in 1962, Warwick signed with Scepter Records, and a lifelong partnership among the three was born. “We became fast friends and grew into more of a family,” Warwick says. “We each felt that we had something to contribute: Burt musically, Hal lyrically, and I was their interpreter. We kind of saw the horizon at the same time.” Above: Warwick and Bacharach at Pye Studios in London in 1964.

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“I met Clive Davis while I was at Scepter Records, my very beginning,” Warwick says of the producer (above, at one of his “infamous” pre-Grammys events in the early 1980s). “There’s something magical about him. I nicknamed him Svengali. He’s been right too many times not to listen to him.”

Courtesy of Dionne Warwick’s personal archive.

In 1987, Warwick met Andy Warhol at the launch party for her perfume, Dionne. “I was one of the first so-called celebrities to create a fragrance,” she says. “This was at a discotheque in New York called Stringfellows. Andy happened to be there, and he came over and was so wonderful to me. Such a nice man. We talked about a lot of things, and, as a matter of fact, that evening he decided he was going to paint me. It never occurred, unfortunately.”

Courtesy of Dionne Warwick’s personal archive.

“I don’t go out on New Year’s. I never did. I never thought it to be very safe. My New Year’s was spent in church, and I was on my knees at midnight. That was the way I was brought up,” Warwick says. Nonetheless, she somehow once found herself hanging out with Joan Collins (above, left) and Lee Majors (above, right) at Aaron Spelling’s annual bash, sometime in the 1980s. “This was at Chasen’s in Beverly Hills, and it was a fun evening. It really was. I had the best time.”

Courtesy of Dionne Warwick’s personal archive.

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When Warwick was in her mid-20s, one of her mentors, Marlene Dietrich, introduced her to the Parisian couturiers, and thus began a lifelong love affair with fashion. (Above: outfits from three different eras.) “Marlene taught me that these are the people that I needed to involve myself with regarding my look,” she says. “I met Yves Saint Laurent, Balmain, Christian Dior, and it just became something that I gravitated toward, as I think any woman would. It is quite flattering, and a compliment, when people say, ‘Where did you get that?’ And the answer is often, ‘It was made for me.’  ” Lately, Warwick has gone the cozier route, turning up in a snazzy collection of tracksuits.

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“The Rat Pack spoiled me rotten,” Warwick says, referring to Sammy Davis Jr. (above, left), Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. “And I loved every second of it. My friends in the industry even said, ‘You’re just a spoiled brat.’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, I am.’  ”

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In 1983, Warwick met Queen Elizabeth II during a royal visit to California, where she performed for the Queen with Sinatra. “It’s quite an honor to have been asked. It is something I hold with a great deal of pride,” Warwick says. Warwick would rather not engage in the British royal family’s recent drama. “I only watched the first 15 minutes of it,” she says, referring to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah. “I just felt I was intruding. I don’t get any joy out of anybody’s unhappiness.”

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In 2005, Oprah Winfrey held a three-day event, dubbed the Legends Ball, in Montecito, California. Warwick—along with 24 other legendary African-American women, from Tina Turner to Maya Angelou—was honored by the Queen of All Media. “It’s one of those times in everyone’s lives you can actually say you really had to be there to describe it,” says Warwick (front row, far right, seated with Turner and Diana Ross). “It seemed like the world was there, people you always wanted to say hello to.”

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In 1989, Warwick (middle row, second from right) took part in an event for Davis Jr. (front row, center). “Everybody in this photo either performed or said something about him. It was a magnificent evening,” she says. “He got up, and he tap-danced with Gregory Hines. We were all sitting and holding our breath, because Sammy was very ill. But he came up on the stage and out-tapped Gregory.”

Courtesy of Dionne Warwick’s personal archive.

While Warwick has appeared on various reality television series over the years, from The Apprentice to The Masked Singer (above, in 2020), she doesn’t spend time watching franchises like The Bachelor or The Real Housewives. “I find them senseless. I really do. Why? What is this on television for?” she asks.

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Warwick celebrates her 30th anniversary as a recording artist at the State Theatre New Jersey.

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Warwick has been involved in efforts to fight famine for decades. She performed at Live Aid in 1985 (above, onstage with Lionel Richie), and last year, the virtual party for her 80th birthday doubled as a charity event. “It was wonderful that so many people were taking an interest in this cause,” she says. “There should never, ever be anyone hungry, especially here in the United States.” The proceeds from a soon-to-be-released duet with Chance the Rapper will go toward the organizations SocialWorks and Hunger: Not Impossible.

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“I should have been a comedienne,” Warwick says. “I love to laugh. I think it’s the best thing in the world for anybody.” As for her newfound popularity on social media—particularly on Twitter, where she has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers of all ages—it’s all just good fun. “Social media opened a door for me—it wasn’t closed, but it didn’t appear to be as accessible as it has become. Youngsters have gravitated to me,” Warwick says. For those wondering if the 80-year-old is actually the mastermind behind the account, Warwick has a curt answer: “I post.”

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