CLEARWATER, Fla. – With a stunning musical career already spanning decades, Dionne Warwick couldn’t be blamed for slowing down a bit at age 82. That is nowhere near happening.
The Grammy-winning, multimillion-selling singer has a soon-to-be released duet with Dolly Parton and a new biographical documentary now streaming on HBO Max. That's not all.
Her latest project with music producer son Damon Elliott and others is an upcoming 50-city live touring show called “Hits! The Musical” with performers ranging in age from 10 to 22.
This week at a rehearsal space in Clearwater, Florida, it was time to hear the kids sing and dance, the first chance for Warwick to see the “Hits!” revue in person. It's set to begin performances Feb. 23 in Asheville, North Carolina, and end May 8 in San Francisco.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Warwick said she did not hesitate when the opportunity arose to be an executive producer of the show.
“Anything that deals with children is an automatic yes for me,” Warwick said. “These babies are amazing. They've proven what music can do, bring joy, happiness, inspiration, ability — just life, you know?”
Warwick said she had “an amazing experience” after watching the group run through high-energy medleys of everything from Ricky Martin's “Livin' La Vida Loca” to “Where Is The Love?” by the Black-Eyed Peas to a mashup of Adele's “Rolling In The Deep” and “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars.
“I'm really at a loss for words and I'm never at a loss for words,” Warwick said. “To see this kind of brilliance.”
One of the youthful 29-member cast, 15-year-old Matthew Jost, said he's thrilled to be part of the show even after playing guitarist Zack in “School of Rock” on Broadway. The show runs through key eras of music over three acts, from rock to pop to hip-hop.
“It's just music that means a lot to me. For this year, we're all over the place,” Jost said, adding that he hopes the audience “just gets that we're kids, we're here, and music brings people together.”
Much credit goes to Warwick's son, Damon Elliott, who was nominated this year for an Academy Award along with songwriter Diane Warren for the song “Applause” from the film “Tell It Like A Woman.” The pair also teamed up on a song called “Gonna Be You” in the new “80 For Brady” movie.
“Mom and I, we don’t take on anything, we don’t endorse pretty much anything,” Elliott said in an interview about the “Hits!” show. “But when it involves kids, as long as they are truly up to par and they work hard and bring that energy, I’ll be behind it.”
Another executive producer is Thaddeus M. Bullard, a former college and professional football player best known as WWE wrestling star Titus O'Neil, and show CEO Bob Gries, a Tampa financier who formerly owned two Florida Arena League football teams.
Warwick's rehearsal show Wednesday capped a week in which she attended the Grammy Awards, performed at a MusiCares dinner honoring Motown greats Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson and then flew to Nashville, Tennessee to shoot a video with Parton for their new tune.
That song, “Peace Like A River,” is set for release Feb. 24. Warwick said she has known Parton for years but they've never recorded together.
“She sent me a song and decided she wanted me to sing with her,” Warwick said, noting she plans to record a gospel/inspirational album herself in the coming months. “It's so timely. This song fits completely inside what I'm getting ready to do.”
Those projects will only add to the estimated 100 million records Warwick has sold since her 1960s partnership with composer Burt Bacharach — who died this week at age 94 — and lyricist Hal David yielded such hits as “Walk On By,” “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” “Alfie,” and “I'll Never Fall In Love Again.” She has had 56 singles make the charts.
All of this ground is covered in the new documentary, titled “Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over” that's streaming on HBO Max. It is chock full of music titans discussing Warwick's life and career. A key section is the rise to superstardom and death in 2012 of Whitney Houston, who was Warwick's cousin and a huge part of the family's impressive musical heritage.
Back in Florida, the “Hits!” troupe gathered on stage at the end of the recent rehearsal to sing an a cappella version of “That's What Friends Are For,” the song Warwick cut in 1986 to boost AIDS research along with Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight.
Warwick said she’s not ready at all to rest on all those accomplishments.
“My voice is fine. I don't take care of it, God does,” she said. “I'll keep going as long as the people want me to be there and they fill the seats. That's all I can tell you.”