Baltimore Backstage: Dionne Warwick has ‘Hits!,’ Blackness re-imagined at the Lewis and CityLit returns bigger than ever

Who wouldn’t want to talk to Dionne Warwick, even if it’s just over the phone and for only 10 minutes?

So when The Baltimore Sun learned that Warwick, a six-time Grammy Award-winning singer and AIDS activist dubbed “The Queen of Twitter” by her followers, was willing to chat to promote “Hits! The Musical,” we jumped at the chance.


Below you’ll find excerpts from that interview, plus an intriguing art exhibit at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History & Culture, as well as a look at the upcoming CityLit Festival, returning fully this month for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s what friends are for

Singer and executive producer Dionne Warwick appears during a rehearsal for the touring show "Hits! The Musical" in Clearwater, Fla. AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The first thing to know about “Hits! The Musical” is that the revue, which samples 80 hit songs over five decades, doesn’t actually contain any Dionne Warwick hits. Warwick and her son, Damon Elliott, said they decided to join the show as executive producers after the lineup already had been selected.


But both are committed to developing young talent. The 29 cast members, described by Warwick as her “babies,” range in age from 10 to 22, and sing and dance to such classics as “Respect” and “Singin’ In the Rain.” The cast was selected from a pool of 7,000 applicants who attended auditions held nationwide.

“We flew down to Florida to watch the kids rehearse,” Elliott said, “and we were won over immediately.”

Singer Dionne Warwick (center) and her son, Damon Elliott, post with cast and crew members during a rehearsal for the touring show "Hits! The Musical." (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The show comes to The Lyric Baltimore, 140 W. Mt. Royal Ave., for one performance only on March 19 at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $29-$99. More info can be found at

It’s not difficult to understand the show’s appeal to Warwick: She got her first big break as a 16-year-old in 1958, when the Gospel Aires, a trio in which she appeared with her sister and cousin, won Amateur Night at New York’s Apollo Theater. Below are five facts you might not know about the 82-year-old legend:

  • She is part of a singing dynasty that has produced three bona fide superstars: Warwick and cousins Leontyne Price and the late Whitney Houston. “My whole family are singers,” Warwick said. “It’s a God-given gift and I’m not going to argue with it.”
  • She recently recorded her first duet with country icon Dolly Parton. Their single, “Peace Like a River,” was released Feb. 24. The two bonded after meeting in Tennessee to record the music video. “Dolly is Dolly all of the time,” Warwick said.
  • In December 2020, Warwick was anointed “Queen of Twitter” after a tweet questioning the “the” in Chance the Rapper’s name went viral. Warwick’s deadpan takes on social culture are hilarious but never mean-spirited. “I’m having a wonderful time getting to know people,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
  • The death last month of songwriter Burt Bacharach at age 94 was a blow to the singer, who on Twitter described the news as “like losing a family member.” Bacharach and the late lyricist Hal David wrote many of Warwick’s biggest hits, from “Walk on By” to “I Say A Little Prayer.” “Burt and Hal and I made history together,” Warwick said. “But [death] is something we all have to do.”
  • Damon Elliott, the younger of Warwick’s two sons, is up for an Academy Award this Sunday with writer Diane Warren. Elliott produced “Applause” for the film “Tell It Like a Woman,” which has been nominated in the category of best song. “Everybody who goes to the awards is optimistic, but I don’t think we’re going to win,” Elliott said. “Still, I’m happy and excited and very proud of ‘Applause.’”

Blackness re-imagined at the Lewis

When I first encountered Arvie Smith’s two paintings on view through Sept. 5 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, it took me a few minutes to figure out what made me so uncomfortable. I walked away, but the paintings called out to me and I came back.

Again, I recoiled and away I went. I probably repeated that little dance three times.

Beneath the vivid yellows and purples and oranges, the paintings, titled “Cupid and Psyche” and “Preach It” are red-hot with anger.

It comes through in the blue-eyed Pinocchio marionette with the long nose, with the shackles tossed beneath a chair, with the way the Black characters’ lips, hands and feet are cartoonishly exaggerated. And, does that pointed shoe resemble a cloven hoof?


Smith, an Oregon-based artist who earned his master’s degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art, has said that he thrusts racial stereotypes front and center in his artwork to mock them.

“I kind of suck people in with the bright colors, and there’s usually some kind of humor, and one of the humorous things is those Black stereotypes,” the artist told Portland Monthly magazine last year. “I put those figures, those symbols, those images into my paintings as funny, but what I’m really doing is flipping the switch.”

That’s among the revelations to be found in “The Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined.” The exhibition of eight artists, five with Maryland ties, was on view last year in Italy for seven months as part of an exhibit affiliated with the prestigious Venice Biennale, the so-called “art world Olympics.”

The exhibit was curated by Myrtis Bedolla, founder of Galerie Myrtis, following an invitation from the European Cultural Center.

Other Marylanders in the exhibit include interdisciplinary artist Morel Doucet, a MICA graduate; Baltimore portrait artist Monica Ikegwu and photographers Larry Cook and Tawny Chatmon.

Cook used digital technology to remove the prisoners from his photographs of prison yards; the result emphasizes how desolate these spaces are. The one sign of hope is easily overlooked: beneath a deep blue sky, a fence topped with barbed wire has a barely perceptible gap that hints at the possibility of escape.


The exhibit at the Lewis, 830 E. Pratt St., is being presented in partnership with Morgan State University’s James E. Lewis Museum. Admission is $12 for adults and $9 for students and seniors. For details, go to

Book bash as CityLit returns

This year’s CityLit festival includes conversations with former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.

The CityLit Festival, Baltimore’s free annual celebration of all things literary, is back for its 20th anniversary and is stepping into the void left by the Baltimore Book Festival, which has not yet returned since the pandemic shuttered arts groups statewide.

While CityLit managed to retain a presence virtually in 2021 and by launching a small, live event in 2022, this is the first time in four years that a full festival will held, with a daylong slate of activities March 25 at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, (1212 Cathedral St.) and individual events March 28 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (7 S. Calvert St.) and on March 31 at the Baltimore branch of Busboys and Poets (3224 St. Paul St.)

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“People can finally experience CityLit in the way it’s meant to be experienced,” said Carla Du Pree, executive director of the CityLit Project, which sponsors the festival.

While the Book Festival’s focus was on introducing the public to books and authors, CityLit aims to help writers develop their craft. It also embraces voices traditionally neglected by the publishing industry, from writers of color to transgender and LGBTQ authors. This year’s festival includes conversations with former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (7 p.m. March 28) and National Book Award finalist Carmen Maria Machado (12:30 p.m. March 25.)

There’s “Queer Possibility,” a panel discussion by local LGBTQ authors (11:30 a.m. Saturday) and one-on-one, 30-minute editorial critique sessions with such established authors as the fiction writer Rosalia Scalia and Lisa Snowden-McCray, editor of The Baltimore Beat (10 a.m. Saturday, for a $10 fee.)


But there’s also a panel of artists discussing how art can help cope with grief (3:30 p.m. Saturday) and musical performances, including a youth-centered, musical adaptation of the opera “Carmen” (2:30 p.m. Saturday.)

For more details, visit

Du Pree said past festivals have attracted audiences ranging in size from 350 attendees to 3,000.

“Who doesn’t love a good story?” she asked. “The more we read and listen to stories, the more stories we tell, the more we are able to tap into our humanity.”

For the record

An earlier version of this article misstated the titles held by Dionne Warwick and Damon Elliott in “Hits! The Musical” and the number of songs in the show. They are executive producers and the cast performs 80 songs.