Grammy Winner, Queen of Twitter Dionne Warwick Dazzles In ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ #MFF21

Dionne Warwick & Director Dave Wooley joined Stephen Colbert for a Q&A conversation at the Wellmont Theater following a screening of DIONNE WARWICK: DON’T MAKE ME OVER. Photos: Neil Grabowsky/Montclair Film

Call them songs in the key of joy, but there’s something inherently uplifting about the music of Dionne Warwick.

It’s almost impossible not to smile, hum or break into song, when you hear “I Say A Little Prayer For You” or “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?”

The audience at Montclair Film Festival’s Wellmont Theater, the first in the U.S. to see the documentary about Warwick, “DIONNE WARWICK: DON’T MAKE ME OVER,” were lifted out of their seats by Warwick and the story behind the music, giving the legendary artist an ebullient standing ovation.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and received the Festival’s special tribute award, was presented as the Documentary Centerpiece of the 10th annual Montclair Film Festival. Director Dave Wooley takes the viewer on a surprising journey through the 60-year career of Warwick, who we learn was actually born Warrick (a spelling error on her first album resulted in the stage name).

Now 80, Warwick grew up in East Orange, New Jersey and started singing “Jesus Loves Me” in her grandfather’s church at age 7, receiving what would be the first of many standing ovations. What came out of her mouth that day surprised Warwick. Her voice would continue to surprise and inspire, most famously when she had a meeting with the composer Burt Bacharach and the lyricist Hal David. Warwick would go on to record her iconic interpretations of their songs, songs that became huge crossover hits and made Warwick a trailblazing artist, beloved by both black and white audiences around the world.

The film reminds you of the magic of Warwick’s voice and her seemingly endless music catalogue. But Wooley is adept at showing us how much more Warwick achieved. Her pioneering advocacy for AIDS lives on with the legacy of “That’s What Friends Are For,” recorded in 1985 with Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder, raising millions for AIDS research.

The film, like Warwick’s music, also tugs on your heartstrings. A star-studded lineup — Elton John, Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg, Bill Clinton, Carlos Santana, Clive Davis and many more – weigh in with praise and candid stories about the singer and how she has impacted their lives and careers.

Snoop Dogg hilariously describes a sit down at Warwick’s home where the singer asked the rapper, who came with Tupac and Suge Knight, to call her a “bitch.” When he could not, she asked him why his lyrics frequently called women by that derogatory term and asked him to stop.

“She outgangsta-ed us that day,” says Dogg.

Warwick also recalls being on tour in Paris for the first time in her career and having Marlene Dietrich take her under her wing only to throw her performance wardrobe out into the hallway, insisting that she must wear “couture.”

“I thought the woman had lost her mind. The New Jersey started coming out of me,” Warwick says.

Dionne Warwick & Director Dave Wooley joined Stephen Colbert for a Q&A conversation following a screening of festival Documentary Centerpiece film DIONNE WARWICK: DON’T MAKE ME OVER. Photos: Neil Grabowsky/Montclair Film

Warwick, in a conversation with Stephen Colbert after the screening, spoke about getting through the pandemic shutdown in her New Jersey home in South Orange, saying she used the time as her first vacation in years. Colbert asked what was her first big purchase when she became a star? A Mercedes she purchased all cash — $27,000 at that time.

Warwick fans can look forward to a collaboration with Chance the Rapper who she connected with on Twitter, where Auntie Dionne holds court these days. When asked who she would like to make music with next, Warwick said Earth, Wind and Fire.

Warwick has more to say and will continue performing and connecting through her music and her Twitter following, but this documentary deserves a wider audience to appreciate her amazing career and life.

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  1. Dionne Warwick is one of us. She lives in South Orange, originally from East Orange and Newark. She’s Whitney Houston’s “auntie” (Whitney grew up in East Orange and attended Mt. St. Dominics in Caldwell when I was going to MKA) The documentary is so inspiring…. you laugh …you cry …and see footage of the streets you pass through here every day and get emotional. Dionne Warwick’s energy is breathtaking! Snoop Dogs’s interview is hilarious!

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