Dionne Warwick, the 76-year-old legendary pop singer and five-time Grammy winner, has been an HIV/AIDS activist for more than 30 years. Now she's a Goodwill Ambassador for ACRIA, a New York City-based national organization internationally renowned for its research, advocacy and education on older adults and youth affected by HIV/AIDS.
In 1981, Warwick was the host of Solid Gold and introduced the pop group Get Wet to open the show. I was the lead singer (known as Sherri Beachfront) of Get Wet, performing with my partner and songwriter Zecca.
I was thrilled that Dionne was the host. She had been one of my favorite '60s pop singers since I was a little girl when I practiced singing into my hairbrush, pretending it was a microphone, to her string of Hal David and Burt Bacharach hits, "What the World Needs Now," "Alfie," "Walk on By" and "I Say a Little Prayer," just to name a few.
In a new public service announcement (PSA) about HIV/AIDS released for International Women's Day, Warwick encourages viewers to go to AgeIsNotACondom. The piece is produced by the nonprofit ACRIA, and highlights Warwick speaking through the decades up to today.
That's What Friends Are For
In 1982, Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager wrote "That's What Friends Are For," originally recorded by Rod Stewart for the movie Night Shift. But it was the Dionne & Friends' 1985 recording with Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder that not only garnered a Grammy-winning chart-topping single but also raised awareness and millions of dollars for amfAR (the American Foundation for AIDS Research). More recently, in 2007, some 36 million people who tuned into the American Idol finale heard "That's What Friends Are For," possibly for the first time, when Warwick joined Burt Bacharach to perform the song.
How many times have you participated in the AIDS Walk, in whatever city or town you walk in, and begin your first steps in memory, hope and victory with your community to that iconic song, our AIDS anthem? After the inspiring early morning speeches, "That's What Friends Are For" blasts over the loud speakers and we embark on the road ahead. I get emotional every time, whether in New York City, Boston or Los Angeles.
As ACRIA's Goodwill Ambassador, Dionne Warwick is part of three PSAs designed to heighten awareness of HIV/AIDS among women over the age of 50 and, especially, African-American women. They focus on women and HIV, the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and older adults and HIV.
Warwick explains in ACRIA's press release that "despite great progress in scientific research and prevention, HIV continues to exact a heavy toll on communities of color, including adults over the age of 50 and African American women, who are often forgotten in this epidemic."
As a long-time survivor of AIDS and an activist since I was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1987, I am deeply moved and grateful for the enormous commitment and continued support by Dionne Warwick. Like me, a woman over 50 living HIV positive, those of us fortunate to have survived are often called the "graying of AIDS."
Once upon a time, long ago, under the colored lights and mirrored disco ball, we shared a stage as entertainers. Now, we share a commitment to HIV/AIDS and to making a difference in people's lives. One thing is certain: Dionne Warwick is always solid gold.
Sherri Lewis was the lead singer of the '80s pop band Get Wet and the host of Straight Girl in a Queer World_. She is also a blogger for TheBody.com._