Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – R.I.P. Alex Steinweiss

Alex Steinweiss passed away last Sunday. Even if you don’t know his name there’s no way you don’t know his work. Steinweiss literally invented the album cover. Before the 1930′s, records came in brown paper sleeves. At 23, he was hired by Columbia Records and suggested that the music be accompanied by poster art. Thus began the singlemost prolific and influential record jacket design career the world has ever known. Not only did Steinweiss give life to the record industry but he made the burgeoning Atomic Age visible to the public, creating the first wave of freeform design that designers still ride today.

Everything Steinweiss did burst with color. You could hear the music without listening to it just by looking at one of his covers. He was as great at what he did as it gets. His style is still imitated, though I’ve never seen anyone nail it like Steinweiss, who makes even the most successful designer of modern graphics look like a copycat.

And those aren’t even his most famous covers. But it gives you an idea of the rhythmic and lyrical style that still influences modern design today. This was the first time this stuff was being done. Just look at the Google image search page for an overview crash course.

I was lucky enough to have a piece of art in an album cover show at the Robert Berman Gallery in LA a few years ago that featured hundreds of Steinweiss’ LPs. It was a tribute show to him with a wide variety of artists designing their own album covers.
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One of my favorite Steinweiss covers was Porgy and Bess. When I was (co)writing The Color purple musical, I listened to that soundtrack a lot. MP3s of course but that record cover was still in my head as I saw it so much as a kid. I hadn’t been a musical theater aficionado before I got the Color Purple gig. To bone up, I started listening to every theater soundtrack I could get my hands on, especially studying Black musicals. Hearing Porgy and Bess again was what put the genre over the top for me and made me excited about writing a musical myself.
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Here’s Steinweiss’ cover:
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And here’s my Color Purple-tinged take on Steinweiss for the gallery show:
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My piece not only interpreted my musical but commented on the fact that both Porgy and Purple were two of the very, very few all Black musicals on Broadway ever, and that one of those was (co)written by me. That’s a lot to stuff into a piece which was at times torturous to design. I could feel the incredible artistic journey I took making it once I stood back and saw it hanging on the wall. Especially with hundreds of actual Steinweisses, not to mention the man himself, only feet away.
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I got to meet Steinweiss too, which was a THRILL. I know we took photos together but I can’t find them for the life of me. So I’ll settle for being thankful for the life of Alex Steinweiss. His artistic influence on me was MASSIVE. Without him, all there was was the record. With Steinweiss, came story and concept and full expression of the artist and art form, without which I would die. R.I. P. Mr. Steinweiss.
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Categories: Art, Celebrity, Creative process, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, LPs, Music, People, R.I.P., Songwriting, The Color Purple

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Allee Willis Marches on Detroit! Part 14, THE VIDEO

As I’ve been blabbing about for weeks now, I had the extreme pleasure of conducting my high school marching band playing a medley of some of my greatest hits in the lobby of the theater I grew up in in Detroit with the cast of the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple, singing along. I meant to post video of our performance as soon as I got home but to my horror, one of the three cameramen only shot the students from the back and the other both forgot to turn his camera on for parts of songs and babbled over the footage like he was the subject of a documentary. So it took quite a lot of editing to get something where you could even begin to see the  warm, wonderful and uplifting-higher-than-the-sky feeling that permeated the theater that day.

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Categories: Boogie Wonderland, Detroit, Discography, Earth Wind & Fire, Friends theme, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Mumford high school, Music, Musical Instruments, Neutron Dance, Party, School, Self expression, September, Songwriting, The Color Purple, video

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Allee Willis Marches on Detroit! Part 10 , The Restaurants

An important part of any urban experience is where and what you choose to eat. Anyone who knows me knows that no money needs to be wasted on the fanciest or trendiest restaurants in town. I wanted to hit the institutions in Detroit that not only involved the excitement I had as a child driving to them but that have proven to be quality enough (or, preferably, kitschy enough) to live on, restaurants whose very presence defines the personality of the city. Most of my all-time favorites have long since succombed, like Dinah Inn, Jerry’s, both great steakhouses off Woodward, and my all-time favorite deli, Darby’s. Even Carl’s Chop House closed a few years ago.

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Categories: Architecture, Celebrity, Detroit, Food, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Mumford high school, Place, The Color Purple

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Allee Willis Marches on Detroit! Part 9, The City By Car

Wednesday, April 6, had tremendous potential. (L-R) Mark Blackwell and Laura Grover, both of whom worked on putting the whole Detroit extravaganza together with me, and I were being driven around the city by Michael Poris, one of the architects leading the charge to rebuild Detroit. The Majestic Theater is one of his projects.

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Categories: Architecture, Creativity, Detroit, Earth Wind & Fire, empowerment, Financial, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Music, People, Place, School, Sculpture, Self expression, Sign, Songwriting, The Color Purple, Transportation, Travel

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Allee Willis Marches on Detroit! Part 3, The House

I know… I promised that Part 3 was going to be about finally getting into the house I grew up in on Sorrento Ave. in Detroit after trying for the last 46 years. But, as someone who’s conscious of her evolution and creative process every waking moment, this finally-going-home experience was BIG for me. Also, it’s not like I can go posting detailed photos of someone else’s stuff, which is inevitable if one is photographing a room. So this isn’t so much about documenting the actual house as it is about what I felt like being back in it.

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Categories: Afro, Architecture, Creative process, Detroit, Families, House, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Music, People, Songwriting, The Color Purple

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Oops, I thought I’d be back in action….

My intentions were good. I was gonna wake up and spring back into action as I haven’t blogged regularly in over a week but my body still feels like it’s broken into 13 million pieces and I need a recuperation day from one of the greatest weeks in my life in Detroit that included giving a speech about the rejuvenation of the city, conducting my beloved Mumford high school marching band playing a medley of some of my greatest hits and, for the first time since my musical, The Color Purple, opened five years ago, conducting part of the show. My spirits are HIGH, like being powered by a hemi engine, but I need time to decompress, not to mention unpack my seven suitcases, go through the thousands of photos that were taken, begin transferring the close to 75 videotapes that were amassed, and somehow attempt to get back to my everyday life of music and mayhem in Los Angeles. So give me 24 and I hope to be back with something soon…

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Categories: Afro, Creativity, Detroit, Discography, empowerment, Forgot to Categorize, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Mumford high school, Music, School, Self expression, Songwriting, The Color Purple

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I’m off to Detroit today!

Here’s where I’ll be this coming weekend conducting the bows music to my musical, The Color Purple, and then on Saturday morning from 11-12:30 sharp conducting my high school marching band playing a medley of my greatest hits in the GORRRRRGEOUS lobby of the historic Fox Theatre with the cast of The Color Purple singing along.  I don’t read music (despite writing all we’re playing), and just imagine what the 60 piece Mumford marching band, 20 member pom pom squad, 25 member Color Purple cast, me and 250 attendees singing along will sound like in here… To kitsch!

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Categories: Creativity, Detroit, Families, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Music, School, Self expression, Songwriting, The Color Purple, Travel

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Allee Willis Marches on Detroit! – A Benefit for Mumford High School

Next week I’m going back to my home town, Detroit, to conduct my high school marching band playing a medley of my greatest hits in the lobby of the theater I grew up in before a performance of my musical, The Color Purple, with the cast leading a sing-along.  It’s a fundraiser to buy new uniforms for the Mumford marching band because with over 40 kids in the band, some of them are still marching around in threads from when I were there.  Although I never made marching band as I never learned to play an instrument. I never learned how to read music either which should make my conducting this event most interesting to say the least!

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Categories: Detroit, empowerment, Financial, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Mumford high school, School, Self expression, The Color Purple

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Watch my new song: “Scared About Life Without Oprah”

My friend and hysterical TV comedy writer, Maxine Lapiduss, has done a brill job on the just-released-and-going-exceptionally-strong video for a song I co-wrote with her, Mark Waldrop, with whom Maxx started the lyric, and Michael Orland, musical director and accompanist for American Idol, good friend, and neighbor of mine who came over with Maxx and with whom we banged out the music in a few hours.

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Categories: Afro, Creativity, Discography, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Music, Sports, The Color Purple, video

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From Allee on the road…

As much as I look forward to rolling out of bed every morning and choosing a fresh, new and wonderful artifact of kitsch to present, today is an absolutely torturous day in terms of what I have to accomplish. First of all, I’m driving back to LA from Monterey. It’s supposed to rain like cats and very large dogs most of the way back so I have to get an early start. Also, I have to write tons of the kind of stuff I hate to write because I’ve got to unleash a whole Facebook campaign on a death-defying event I’m attempting to pull off in 2 1/2 weeks in Detroit when I conduct my high school band in the theater I grew up in playing a medley of my greatest hits before a performance of my musical, The Color Purple, with the cast singing along. This should sound like a manageable event, but just imagine the sound of a marching band playing in the four-story high/almost block long lobby of a theater built in 1930 of solid concrete and marble, the acoustical nightmare of which has just dawned on me: What’s the point of having a sing-along if all you can hear is a bevy of brass drilling through your your eardrums?

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Categories: Art, bad art, Clothes, Creative process, Creativity, Detroit, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Mumford high school, Music, Musical Instruments, Party, School, Self expression, Songwriting, The Color Purple, Travel, video

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