It’s been a cold and dreary Covid winter, but Dionne Warwick has been making the days brighter. The legendary singer and activist took over her Twitter account in December and has been showing off her humor, positivity, and love for younger artists. From shouting out Taylor Swift to questioning why performers use “the” in their stage names, Warwick has been taking advantage of her time at home to connect with both longtime and brand-new fans.
And Twitter isn’t the only place we’ve seen the “Walk on By” crooner over the last year. She appeared on reality singing competition The Masked Singer just before the pandemic kept her grounded at home. In September, she joined her friends Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight for a special performance of “That’s What Friends Are For” and “Superwoman.” Next up, she has a charity single planned with Chance the Rapper and is on the short list for the 2021 class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Earlier this year, Warwick caught up with Rolling Stone to chat about her legendary career and what it’s been like to engage with her fans through social media.
You had a busy 2020, appearing on The Masked Singer and participating in a Verzuz battle. How else have you been spending your time during the pandemic?
You know what I’ve been able to do, actually, is sleep. Get as much rest as I want to, or not get up if I don’t want to. It’s just been a pleasant retreat for me for a bit. I’ve been able to do some other things that have been meaningful for me as well — I’ve still been able to become involved with charitable organizations. I’ve been watching a lot of TV, which has been hysterical, because I’m watching shows that I hadn’t seen since I was a child, on MeTV.
What kinds of shows have you been watching?
Right now, Bonanza, Perry Mason, early in the morning. It’s been those kinds of shows that I grew up watching, and all of a sudden they’re back in my life again.
Even though you’re not on the road, you’ve found a great way to interact with old fans and make new ones, through Twitter. What have you enjoyed most about tweeting?
I’ve made some new friends in the younger generation, so it’s just been a bunch of fun for me. I think it’s wonderful, just for the fact that they had discovered that there is a Dionne Warwick, which is very nice. And to find out that they were aware of me before Twitter, but have become more aware of me and are enjoying me, which is the best part of it all.
One really powerful part about your interactions there is how you’ve pushed for inclusivity, talking about pronouns for LGBTQ fans, for example. And I know that “That’s What Friends Are For” was actually a benefit single for AIDS research. Has it always been a priority for you to connect with your fans who are queer and non-binary?
I think it’s wonderful. I don’t look at them any differently than I do any other human being. They’re people. I think that is basically the premise of it all, that I care about them as much as I care about anybody else. I have no choice in the matter, basically, because I don’t judge people. That’s not my thing. You are who you are, and that’s what it is.
You’ve been touring internationally for most of your life. What’s your favorite place in the world, and why?
There are many, but if I had to choose, I would say it would have to be Bahia, Brazil. It’s just where I found my paradise. It’s where I found something that’s kind of just disappeared here in the U.S., for me anyway: respecting elders, love of children, and love of the country … things that I was brought up to do, and that we seem to have lost sight of here for some reason. There are moments when I wake up in the morning wondering, “What country am I really living in?”
“I don’t judge people. That’s not my thing. You are who you are, and that’s what it is.”
Who are your heroes, and why?
The first one would be Barbara Jordan, who was one of the most magnificent congresswomen that ever graced the halls down there in Washington, D.C. I had the pleasure of meeting her. I told her that at that point in time, I was thinking, “Maybe I should become an attorney.” She almost talked me into doing that, too. But as it turned out, she said, “You continue to sing, and you can go to law school anytime you want, but you continue to sing, OK?”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten, either in the industry or outside of it?
The best advice in life has been from my family, and I got it from my mentors as well. I hate name-dropping, I really do, but these people were my mentors: Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra. They all said basically the same thing to me at a very tender time of the beginning of my career: “Be who you are. You cannot be anyone but you.” And I’ve never forgotten that.
What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?
Getting information prior to doing certain things, or going certain places. All those things that I was not given in the very beginning, and had to learn on the outside the hard way. It’s a shame, not being given instructions as to, invest this, don’t buy that, keep this, don’t give that away, things of that nature. It didn’t seem that anyone really cared, aside from their own self-aggrandizement.
What’s the best and worst part of success?
Oh, boy. The best part is bringing joy to people. I guess the worst would be not being able to find that period of time that’s solely mine. I’m everybody’s person, and I can’t and I don’t find the time to be me. Now, I must say these past 10 months have been sensational. I got to know me again