2025 will mark the 40th anniversary of Dionne Warwick’s cultural milestone single, “That’s What Friends Are For.” The one-off single, featuring the equally iconic Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder, “That’s What Friends Are For,” was released as a charity single in October 1985 to support AIDS research. The song achieved monumental success and cemented Warwick’s legacy as not just a music icon but a significant figure in the history of AIDS advocacy. 

Dionne Warwick emerged as a groundbreaking performer in the 1960s, her voice becoming the medium for the poignant lyrics of the songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and Hal David. With hits like “Walk On By” and “Say a Little Prayer,” she became synonymous with a refined pop and R&B style. As musical styles changed in the 1970s and 1980s, Warwick adapted to the changing musical landscape, dominated by Disco and the advent of MTV-oriented superstars. 

The genesis of “That’s What Friends Are For” lies in its initial recording by Rod Stewart for the 1982 comedy movie “Night Shift.” Stewart’s version was in concert with the schmaltzy ballad sound that dominated pop radio at the time and went relatively unnoticed. Written by Burt Bacharach & Carole Bayer Sager, Warwick’s 1985 version was a rallying cry in the fight against AIDS and catapulted the song into music and AIDS history. 

Featuring Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder and billed as Dionne & Friends, “That’s What Friends Are For” was released in October 1985, just a few weeks after the AIDS-related death of Rock Hudson, a beloved American Hollywood Legend. Hudson’s death marked a significant shift in America’s understanding of AIDS and song’s poignant message of friendship and unconditional love resonated with music listeners during a pivotal time. 

The proceeds of the platinum-selling “That’s What Friends Are For” were donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR). Co-founded by Elizabeth Taylor in September 1985, one of AmFar’s first donations was a gift of $250,000 from Rock Hudson shortly before his death a month later. This gift, along with the amplification and monetary support by “That’s What Friends Are For,” AmFar has contributed to numerous breakthroughs that have extended and saved lives worldwide.

Dionne Warwick’s AIDS advocacy was not limited to this song. She became a vocal and visible advocate for AIDS research, education, and compassion. In March 1990 “That’s What Friends Are For” was performed by Warwick and her cousin Whitney Houston as the finale at the AIDS benefit That’s What Friends Are For: Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The historic event, later televised on CBS, raised Over $2.5 million for various AIDS organizations.

Dionne Warwick’s dedication to AIDS advocacy continued for years, making her a significant figure not only in music history but also in the history of social activism. Her efforts helped shift public perception of AIDS and brought greater awareness and resources to combat the crisis. Her career is a testament to the power of music not just to reflect the times but to shape them. 

Dionne Warwick is an enduring icon in both music and social activism. Praise her!

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