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Music icon Dionne Warwick says she embraced HIV/AIDS activism in the 1980s after seeing so many of her peers in the music industry be struck down by the pandemic disease well before it was fully understood.
“I became sensitive to the fact that it affected so many people within my industry — lighting people, sound people, hair, makeup, it went on and on and on,” Warwick told a press conference for the documentary Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over as it receives a world premiere at TIFF.
Having worked early as an artist aiming to heighten public awareness of the AIDS epidemic, Warwick added she wanted to dispel the misconception that the disease only targeted gay men, as women and children were also impacted.
“Being the nosy person that I am, I wanted to know what was going on and took the time to find out. That’s the humanity side of being a human being, and caring about other people,” she told the TIFF presser.
Warwick, who will receive a special tribute award at the festival’s TIFF Tribute Awards gala on Sept. 18, added that she would welcome a remake of the 1985 song “That’s What Friends Are For,” which has become an anthem for AIDS awareness and empathy.
“It would be something to think about, yes,” she told the TIFF press contingent. Warwick hasn’t considered who might appear on the remake of the song written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager in 1982, before the famous 1985 cover that featured Warwick alongside Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.
“It would have to be people I have some knowledge of,” she added. The documentary by directors Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner recounts Warwick’s six-decade career in both pop music and Black and LGBTQ activism.
Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over chronicles her journey from early gospel roots in New Jersey to becoming a top-selling female vocalist in the pop world. Warwick was also asked on Sunday what is required to become a legend.
“People make a legend. A legend is not something that I do. People generally designate who and what is and will be a legend,” she insisted.
The Toronto Film Festival continues through Sept. 18.
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