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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Bowie State University’s Performing Arts Theater Named After Dionne Warwick

Bowie State University (BSU) honored Dionne Warwick by naming the Dionne Warwick Theater at the school’s Fine and Performing Arts Center after the six-time Grammy winning music legend on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Dr. Aminta Breaux, BSU’s president, explained the significance of BSU being selected to have a first performing venue named in Warwick’s honor.

“First of all, it’s historic, because she [Dionne Warwick] does not lend her name to other opportunities like this except for her elementary school. She made that clear when she visited here about three years ago. 

We started the conversation. She was right here in this building. When I told her about Bowie State University and our history but also the vision of where we’re going, she said she wanted to be a part of it, so this is thrilling,” Breaux remarked. “It’s historic and the future is going to be very bright because she’s leading and will certainly inspire others to support the arts in our communities, because the arts are part of our society and our culture. Unfortunately, they are the first to go when a budget cut comes around.” 

Breaux mentioned that Warwick will shine a light for others to follow.

Although the historic occasion was marked by student performances, artistic tributes that were made in different media and renditions of Warwick’s, the afternoon also highlighted a call to action. The public was encouraged to donate to BSU’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts’ Dionne Warwick Theater.

Photo credit: Ryan Pelham, BSU staff photographer

A story shared from a professional musician and BSU’s former Fine and Performing Arts Department Chair, Dr. Clarence Knight, Jr., further revealed the significance of the special day. Knight, who retired in 2015, noticed that the old fine and performing arts department’s building facility was not large enough.

“We shared it with a lot of other departments. The acoustics were terrible,” Knight said.

He stated that the newer building is acoustically sound. Knight explained that a former president of Bowie State University put him in charge of the building project. He investigated what needed to be done to construct a building in the state of Maryland. The result was the current theater where Warwick’s relationship with Bowie State University was solidified.

“I’m mostly proud of the fact that Ms. Warwick is putting her name on something that I helped build,” Knight said, referring to the venue. “Ms. Warwick, I just love you. I appreciate you so, so much and thank you for allowing us to use your name to make this a more dynamic place for all of these young people that we’re trying to support.”

BSU is the oldest HBCU in Maryland. The university’s academic community and supporters hope to bring additional programming and events to the recently named venue.

“I also want you to know, this theater bearing my name, I do not lend my name to everything. This is something that I am not only very, very happy but proud to be able to say ‘yes.’” Warwick reminded.

Photo credit: Ryan Pelham, BSU staff photographer

Breaux read a proclamation to the audience who attended the program. She explained that it will be added into BSU’s archives.

“The resolution for Ms. Dionne Warwick reads, ‘Whereas Ms. Dionne Warwick began singing in church during her childhood years in East Orange, New Jersey, and began singing professionally in 1961, after being discovered by Burt Bacharach, and Hal David and whereas Ms. Ward’s 1963 performance in Paris, France skyrocketed her to international stardom, and she has earned 75 charted hit songs and sold over 100 million records,’” Breaux said.

Thunderous applause erupted as Breaux reminded attendees of Warwick’s musical accomplishments that include winning Grammy Awards, induction into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the R&B Music Hall of Fame and the Apollo Theater Walk of Fame. The international icon’s 60-year career has included support of causes and charities such as AIDS, children’s hospitals, world hunger, disaster relief and music education. 

Photo credit: Ryan Pelham, BSU staff photographer

Warwick broke barriers. She also became the first African American solo female artist of her generation to win a GRAMMY award for Best Contemporary, Female Vocalist Performance.

A dance rendition of “Then Came You” followed with eclectic performances including a saxophone serenade. Congratulatory video messages included remarks from Maryland’s Governor Wes Moore to actor Tom Selleck and rapper Doug E. Fresh.  Vocalist Tamara Wellons, Miss 1999 Bowie State University and president of the DC Chapter of the GRAMMYs performed Warwick’s hit “Deja Vu.” 

Singer BeBe Winans belted out a rendition of “Amazing Grace” in the newly named theater as Warwick watched smiling.

“She has been a friend. She has been a door opener and she has been consistent, and her heart is even better than her voice,” Winans said. BT

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