RYAN PELHAM/BOWIE STATE UNIVERSITY
Originally published on Huff Post/Phillip Lewis
You won’t be able to walk on by Bowie State University’s theater without seeing Dionne Warwick’s name.
The historically Black university in Maryland has named the theater inside its Fine and Performing Arts Center after the iconic singer.
Bowie State is “a traditional Black college, and with us losing so many of them, this is a fine promotion to give. [Historically Black colleges and universities] are still very vital, not only to our existence but to the world,” said Warwick.
It will be the first performing arts venue named after the six-time Grammy winner known for such hits as the 1967 song “I Say A Little Prayer,” the 1969 track “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” and the 1964 classic “Walk On By.”
The vocalist has a connection with the university. Warwick, a decades-long advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness, visited Bowie State’s wellness center and was “absolutely blown away by the work they do there.” After touring the campus and visiting the fine and performing arts department, the match was lit.
“I’m truly excited and thrilled,” she said.
Dionne Warwick claps as her name is unveiled at Bowie State University’s performing arts venue.
Warwick, one of the most charted vocalists ever, has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the R&B Music Hall of Fame. Though she is known for her singing ability, she was also a pioneer in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the 1980s — a time when the stigma and fear associated with the disease were at its height.
In 1985, she released “That’s What Friends Are For” to benefit AIDS research and raised more than $3 million for the cause. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed the singer as U.S. Ambassador of Health.
Knowing her background as a humanitarian, the decision was easy for Bowie State, said Tewodross Williams.
“We’re not only trying to create artists and creatives, but we want to create what I call socially engaged artists,” explained Williams, associate professor and chair of the university’s fine and performing arts department. “We want our students to be connected socially, globally, and politically in terms of the world and what affects them. We encourage our students to use their art for social change.”
The past decade has seen alumni from historically Black colleges and universities achieve the highest honors in entertainment. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter, a Virginia’s Hampton University graduate, recently became the first Black woman to win two Oscars. Tennessee State University’s marching band is now the first marching band to win Best Roots Gospel Album at the Grammys. And Bowie State’s own Myles Frost won a Tony for his role as Michael Jackson in “MJ: The Musical.”
Now that the theater is named after such a legendary singer, Williams wants to welcome everyone to see the talent the university can display for themselves.
“We want people to come see these amazing performances, film festivals, and all kinds of things that are happening. Come out and support,” he said.