Before Dionne Warwick Became A Twitter Icon, She Was One Of Music’s First Black Pop Stars

Dionne Warwick is the undisputed Queen of Twitter. Whether she’s scolding the social media platform’s CEO, Elon Musk, roasting the stage names of some of today’s biggest stars, providing her two cents on trending topics, or pledging her allegiance to different recording artist’s stan clubs, the “Walk On By” singer has become everyone’s favorite Internet Aunt.

However, Warwick’s rich musical legacy often goes unacknowledged despite her popularity with the younger generation due to her online presence and likeness being the focal point for a few viral Saturday Night Live sketches. Now, that is where her documentary, Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over (named after her 1963 song), comes in.

Co-directed by Dave Wooley (the co-author of Dionne Warwick: My Life, As I See It and Say A Little Prayer) and David Heilbroner, the documentary serves as a reminder of Warwick’s impact has had in her over six-decade-long career. The conversation about nepotism babies in the music industry has fizzled out. However, there is there’s still a conversation to be had about musical families to which Warwick belongs to one of New Jersey’s most famous ones.

The Drinkard Singers, Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston, and Warwick all share a bloodline. Although her late cousin Whitney Houston may be more widely known to today’s music lovers, Warwick has an equally robust catalog and impact. In fact, pop singers like Rihanna and Lizzo owe a great deal to Warwick for the doors she knocked down in the genre after she became the first African-American woman to win a Grammy award in the pop category in 1968 for her song “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?”

While we await the day Warwick gets her major studio-backed biopic like her cousin, in which she hopes Teyana Taylor will play her, the documentary Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over is a great place to start familiarizing yourself with Warwick’s life story.

As a classically trained musician and songwriter, Warwick’s music is the actual musical manifestation of trickle-down economics. As a result, Warwick’s music has influenced and been covered by some of the most revered musicians, including Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, and Ahmad Jamal, not to mention the dozens of times her work has been sampled.

Warwick’s 1967 song “I Say A Little Prayer” was reimagined by the late Aretha Franklin. It became one of the singer’s most popular songs receiving several placements in television and movies, the latest being Sing 2. Her 1964 song, “A House Is Not A Home,” was covered by jazz music icon Ella Fitzgerald in 1968, gospel music trailblazer Mavis Staples in 1969, and R&B titan Luther Vandross in 1981. Her 1973 song “You’re Gonna Need Me” was sampled by one of hip-hop’s most respected producers, the late J Dilla, in 2006 on his song “Stop!,” Usher in 2004 on his song “Throwback” featuring Jadakiss off his diamond-certified album Confessions, and “Want You Back” by rapper Fabulous in 2012 which features Joe Budden and Teyana Taylor.

Next, her 1964 song “Walk On By” was sampled by rap legend Slick Rick in 1988 on his iconic track “Mona Lisa,” Logic in 2013 on his track by the same now. The song was also covered by Aretha Franklin the same year and in 1969 by the late Isaac Hayes. Lastly, Warwick’s 1963 “Anyone Who Had a Heart” was sampled by Mos Def on his song “Know That” in 1999, and former G.O.O.D. Music signee Cyhi the Prynce in 2014 on his song “Napoleon.”

Warwick also embodies what it means to be socially responsible with your platform as an entertainer. Neck and neck with her lengthy discography, Warwick’s advocacy work is just as vast. A large portion of Warwick’s documentary Don’t Make Me Over is dedicated to showcasing her philanthropy and advocacy work across several causes, including AIDS research and LGBTQIA+ rights.

Long before Lady Gaga was singing about being born this way or Sam Smith spoke out supporting the Marriage Act, there was Dionne Warwick’s 1985 song “That’s What Friends Are For.” The track, a cover of Rod Stewart’s 1982 single by the same name, was recorded by Warwick featuring Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder to raise funds for AIDS research during the height of the epidemic. After its release, the song became a major hit raising over $3 million for amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. According to the documentary, it has raised $10 million for AIDS research. It will continue to raise money perpetually as Warwick signed away the rights to the profits to the organization. The song also earned Warwick another Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group and the top spot on the charts.

Another cause Warwick lent her voice was misogyny in rap music in the 1990s. While it remains a pervasive problem over twenty years later, at one point, the New Jersey native called a meeting of hip-hop’s biggest names to discuss the matter. Rap legend Snoop Dogg, an attendee of the meeting, recounted how he was out gangstered by Warwick, making him rethink his role in the problem. In recent times, Warwick’s advocacy work has mainly been done behind the scenes. Still, there are moments when the musician takes to her beloved Twitter page to speak on a matter (most recently, Britney Spears’ conservatorship).

Yes, Dionne Warwick is the undisputed Queen of Twitter and everyone’s favorite Internet Aunt, but let’s not forget her hefty contributions to popular music as we know it today.