Exclusive: Dionne Warwick Talks Joining Twitter To Put A ‘Grownup’ In The Room
(Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Dionne Warwick was named Queen of Twitter shortly after joining the social media platform but she didn’t sign up to compete for a crown.“That was not the purpose of my being on Twitter,” she told ESSENCE. “The purpose was to kind of turn around some of the things being said and done on Twitter.” 

Art inspired by famous quips from the entertainer and New Jersey native will be displayed alongside artifacts from her majestic life in a new art exhibition at the Newark Arts Festival

Dionne Warwick: Queen of Twitter will feature 17 pieces of original artwork from artists including Lavett Ballard, Pamela Council, Jo-El Lopez, Beau McCall, Dianne Smith, and Felandus Thames. 

Seeing “what my nieces and nephews were giggling so much about” did not impress the musical legend,” she said reiterating her motive for joining the Twitterverse. “I was not too pleased with what was being said by these babies – and that’s what I call them still to this day babies – because you know, they were bashing each other and calling each other names,” she continued. “I said wait a minute something’s gotta be done about this.” 

She infused her signature elegance into the platform with a dose of sharp humor. With the help of her social and branding director Brittani Warrick, one of the nieces who introduced her to Twitter’s pitfalls, she was soon going viral.

Warwick began bonding with her niece over their shared sense of humor when she was still a child. “She always said I was a clown,” Warwick said, explaining that humor was part of her parenting strategy. “I tried to make everything I did with my nieces and nephews and my children too as well, a joke. Even when they were being reprimanded it ended up being a joke. They could laugh at and understand why they were being reprimanded.” 

The 80-year-old still employs that strategy to educate the masses on her timeline. Her rye observations are offset by efforts to raise awareness on social issues and warnings to avoid foolishness. It’s a spoonful of sugar for the digital age – with much better cheekbones. 

“I think my becoming a part of Twitter, the presence of a grownup, made all the difference in the world,” she said. Warwick proved you could be sharp without being nasty by engaging in what seasoned Housewives might call “fun shade.” 

“I kind of gave those who were doing those kinds of things the opportunity to understand that they could say what they wanted to say, but there was a way to say it without being ugly,” she said before declaring “Everything can be done with a smile.” 

“It really can,” she added. “And you’ll find that smiling brings joy to people as well as self –smiling, you don’t get wrinkles.” 

Warwick’s inquiries about how Miles Parks McCollum transformed into “Lil’ Yatchy” and what made Chance choose to add “The Rapper,” to his moniker were met with delight instead of scorn. 

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“Dionne is nosy. I want to know. So I would ask questions and I would get answers,” she said. “I am learning from them as much as they’re learning from me.”

The tweets being celebrated in the exhibition include Warwick’s strict instruction to “Play with your friends. Don’t play with me,” and the assertion that she is “always tweeting while wearing a black, vintage, sequin gown…as divas do.” It was curated by Peter “Souleo” Wright, and produced by Lauren LeBeaux Craig and Marcy DePina of Newark Arts. “​​They took time and did the homework, which is very important,” said Warwick. “So it was a pleasure.”

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Newark Arts Festival. Its theme is “creative resilience.” 

As for where she thinks the city’s “creative resilience” stems from, Warwick said, “I think it’s gumption and the folks who live in Newark who have a desire to see Newark for what it really is.”

The exhibition was developed in partnership with Audible and Newark’s Grammy Museum, home to the Whitney exhibit. Warwick, like her late cousin Whitney “Nippy” Houston, is considered a treasure in Essex County, New Jersey. She began singing at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church as a girl. She was given a key to the city by Mayor Ras Baraka in 2019. 

Newark has re-emerged on the national radar after years of the city’s fertile arts scene being overshadowed by its New York neighbors. She considers the belated recognition “much needed.” 

 “It’s very exciting that the attention to art is now being paid,” said Warwick.  “Newark has gone through an incredible Renaissance. I am thrilled with what I’m seeing in Newark.”  

Anthony Frasier and Evan Spauling have each launched thriving production companies, Jadakiss is promoting peace with Lil’ Man, Newark Symphony Hall is headed for a multi-million dollar remodel and Moonlight Cinema has reinvented the drive-in movie experience. Vanessa Williams and Lion Babe are rocking Marco Hall, Dwayne Wade is munching at Cornbread, Nefertite Nguvu is directing Showtime shows, Aya Paper Co. is getting shoutouts from the Red Table, Bisa Butler is covering ESSENCE and accomplishments by Michael B. Jordan, Leron Lee, Jasmine Mans, Linda Harrison, and Daryl Stewart are swiftly reminding outsiders of Newark’s cultural power. Warwick confirmed residents’ sentiments that the talent being showcased is nothing new. “Newark was always a thriving, very innovative city,” she said. 

Residents of the city’s iconic Halsey street were recently treated to seeing Gabrielle Union filming her upcoming film The Perfect Find on their morning trips to Boss Blend Coffee and the Rutgers bookstore. The actress and producer expressed appreciation for the historic arts enclave by declaring that “Halsey street is a vibe…PERIODT,” to her 18.7 million Instagram followers. The opening of Dionne Warwick Queen of Twitter will take place in a pop-up gallery on Broad and Halsey in the Hahne & Co. building, a former department store, where the emerging diva spent time as a girl. It was one of many Newark locations where she would sharpen her fashion senses including the counter at “Milk Bar,” and “St. Luke’s Methodist church.” 

Like fashion and music, she considers tweeting a unique art form. Warwick praised art’s teaching properties. “You get to use your brain.,” she said. “It can be used as an educational tool and I think I learned pretty well.” 

Dionne Warwick Queen of Twitter opens at the Newark Arts festival on Wednesday, October 6, 2021, from 6-9 PM EST.