Born into a musical family, Dionne Warwick began singing in church at 6 and working professionally as a backup singer before she’d even graduated high school. The New Jersey native admits that going into music seemed “preordained,” but she also had a backup plan.

“I went to college to become a teacher. Education was my major and piano was my minor,” she exclusively tells Closer. Fortunately, for the millions of people who fell in love with Dionne’s many hit singles, including “I Say a Little Prayer,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “Walk On By,” and “Do You Know the Way to San José?” she didn’t need a Plan B.

dionne warwick january 2020
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It’s hard to believe that this vibrant music icon, who in an ordinary year still maintains a rigorous touring schedule, will soon turn 80! “I’m very excited about it,” says Dionne, who will be hosting a virtual birthday extravaganza and fundraiser on December 12. “I have no reason not to celebrate this milestone in my life. I feel blessed to be able to say I’m turning 80.”

Keep scrolling below to read Closer‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Dionne Warwick!

Like so many performers, you had to postpone many concert appearances this year. Are you looking forward to going back on the road?

Yes, absolutely. It’s just a matter of when, not if. It’s a wonderful feeling to sing a song that puts a smile on someone’s face.

Where do you find the energy to perform?

I think it comes from loving what I do. I love to sing. I think singing and music creates a joyous feeling that everyone wants to be a part of. I fortunately have the ability to do that.

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Which of your hits do you still enjoy performing most?

They are all like my babies. I still enjoy singing every single one. They are the reason I’m still doing what I’m doing.

Who are your closest friends in show business?

I have a lot, but the four gals that are my closest are Leslie Uggams, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and — unfortunately, she’s gone — Diahann Carroll, who was more mentor and friend.

Your sons, David and Damon, both followed you into music. That must make you proud.

Yes! David, my eldest, plays drums for me in my quartet. He also does duets with me — so does his daughter, my granddaughter. David is also a composer who wrote Luther Vandross’ big hit, “Here and Now.”

dionne warwick sons
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How about Damon?

Damon is the one who got into the producing end. He wanted to know about all the buttons and red lights in the control room. He has mastered and produced my last four CDs. They are also both proud fathers and husbands — I couldn’t ask for more.

Your granddaughter Cheyenne Elliott is following in your footsteps. What does it feel like to watch her perform?

It’s like, “Oh my goodness, look at this, this is my tiny baby!” But she’s grown into a beautiful young woman with a huge amount of talent. I look on her with pride and know that she’s a part of me, too.

You done so much: You’ve won five Grammys and are one of the most successful female vocalists of all time. Is there anything left on your bucket list?

There’s the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony and the Kennedy Honors — so a couple of things!

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Do you have any regrets?

There have been times where I wondered why I was being overlooked. But I stop myself because I am a firm believer in things happening when they are supposed to. So I check myself.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say the same thing that the incredible icons who embraced and mentored me said: Be who you are. That’s exactly who I am, regardless of the ups and downs. We all have peaks and valleys. It’s part of what we call living life.

You’ve been wed twice to the same man, William Elliott. The last marriage ended in 1975.

Bill and I were wonderful together until we weren’t. The schedule I keep [made it hard].

Have you ever considered marrying again?

[Laughs] I’ve grown much too independent to even share space with someone. That’s not to say I don’t have companionship when I want it, but I do feel that I’m well beyond that stage of wanting to get married!

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Did you enjoy competing on the third season of The Masked Singer? You won over a whole new generation as the Mouse on that show!

That was so much fun! As terrified as I am of mice, I was happy to be the Mommy Mouse. That head was the cutest thing. They also gave me a beautiful, elegant gown. It was the way they wanted me to be presented. I had the best time.

Tell us about the virtual celebration and fundraiser you are hosting online to celebrate your birthday on December 12.

This year, I felt the gift of giving would be the best thing. I found a wonderful charity, Hunger: Not Impossible. It’s all about feeding hungry people. I find it completely unacceptable and appalling that especially here in the United States, there are people who are going hungry. So we have put together packages that people can buy to virtually attend the show and a portion of the funds raised will go to Hunger: Not Impossible.

Your most recent holiday album, Dionne Warwick & The Voices of Christmas, features performances with stars like Johnny Mathis and the Oak Ridge Boys, who will also perform during the online event. What will they sing?

We’re going to have a good time and be singing songs from the CD. Hopefully, we will put some smiles on people’s faces. Everybody needs it this year. And you won’t be just doing it for yourself, you’ll also be doing it for someone else, too.

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– Reporting Louise A. Barile