"The D" Updates
The sophisticated centerpieces, tastefully mounted on cans of Detroit’s favorite pop, Vernors, matched Diego’s color scheme well.
Which brings me to Paul Riser, a gem of a human being, one of the last surviving Funk Bros. who arranged these gems - "My Girl", "I Heard It Though The Grapevine" (both versions), "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", Tears Of A Clown, and SO many more. So as I'm wont to do when I do anything in the Motor City, we also sang-along to Paul's hits.
Here are the all important links. Please click!
iTunes, Google Play, Apple Music, Amazon Music: http://smarturl.it/alleelovesdetroit
Yeah I know... it's been quite a long time since I wrote an update for this colossal, massive, seemingly never-ending Detroit project of mine, "The D". But it's not for lack of working on it! It's just that after almost five years of attending to it daily my brain was more split up than a pie chart and I decided to just focus on finishing the project, as opposed to writing, tweeting, and otherwise losing my mind from the constant pressure of posting about it. I thought my disappearance into the vacuum of work would last a few months but alas, here we are a year and a half later....
The good news is "The D" IS DONE (!!!). Other than the party to premier it, which takes place Thursday night, September 28, at the historic Detroit Institute of Arts in, obviously, Detroit.
But anyone who knows me knows that I take party-throwing as seriously if not more than almost any other thing I do. So the planning and prep for this extravaganza has been and remains as intensive as recording and mixing the over 5000 tracks of vocals and instruments for "The D" record -featuring more people in history than have ever been on a record before! - and filming, viewing, editing and animating the thousands of hours of footage to make the matching song-length micro-documentary. So for at least the past four months I've been swathed in a swirl of paint, glitter, and excess brain matter planning this most illustrious event that includes the world premiere of "The D", Boogaloo Wonderland sandwiches (legendary in the neighborhood I grew up in and partially named after my song "Boogie Wonderland"), sing-alongs to more of my hits like "September," and "I'll Be There for You (the Friends theme)", special performances and tributes, and a real-time collaboration with thousands of Detroiters building a 50 foot long "We Are The D" art wall. Normally a place of quiet and elegant contemplation, the DIA will be anything but the night of "September" 28th! And tickets are FREE and you should reserve one here now!
Last thing I want to mention is that my long-time collaborator and friend, Narada Michael Walden, responsible for six out of seven of Whitney Houston's #1's, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, and soooooo many more, just added his touch to our already if-I-do-say-so-myself fantastic mix of the record as well as a special radio mix, so I'm even more excited about this whole thing which sounds different than anything you've ever heard, SWEAR TO GOD!
So Detroiters, reserve your tickets now. Non-Detroiters but who just might happen to be in the Motor City the night of "September" 28, you can grab them too. And I can't wait for everyone else to finally hear and see "The D" the day after the premiere, September 28, once it has been unrolled before the eyeballs of the citizens of the city that inspired and made it.
Yours firmly in The D!
For more complete info on "The D" go here: www.wesingthed.com
For PARTY TICKETS go here: www.dia.org/theD
Who's Allee? Go here: www.alleewillis.com
Although I didn't like losing time on "The D"/Allee Willis Loves Detroit, the success of the musical can only help and eventually promote it as The Color Purple is the ultimate story of survival and pushing through whatever obstacles may befall you. The story not only runs parallel to the last few decades’ trajectory of Detroit but to my own life and career. And as my journey with The Color Purple runs through our film it's been a great few months for both me and the fate of the Detroit project.
The crew and I are now back in LA fervently plowing through footage of sing-alongs and such in efforts to speed our Detroit puppy along. In the meantime, here’s a small sample of The Color Purple featuring Jennifer Hudson who magnificently plays Shug Avery. So slug back some eggnog, enjoy, and I will be back with much more Detroit as we continue our lonnng drive to the Motor City.
Yours in The D,
October 8, 2015
You can see which celebs we’ve recorded and filmed so far here.
To see press on the project go here.
To see our work progress since the project began go here.
To see everything Allee Detroit go here.
September 21, 2015
June 23, 2015
May 19, 2015
First, In case you haven't read it, here's the if-I-do-say-so-myself-despite-a-few tiny-inaccuracies-great-and-rather-large-piece-on-me and lots about the Detroit project in last Sunday's Washington Post.
Second, on Sunday night, July 12, it's big ol' party time when the illustrious Andrae and I + band hit the stage for a wild, so-affordable-it's-crazy fundraiser for "The D"/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit"!!, my Detroit-inspired record, video and feature length film about human spirit you must already know about or you wouldn't be reading this. Featuring a sneak peek world premiere of the record and video with more people in history than have ever been the original artist on a record, joined by some of the biggest stars to ever emerge from the Motor City. Also sing-alongs to some of some of my fattys like "September," "Boogie Wonderland," "Neutron Dance," and the Friends theme, as well as auctions from the legendary Allee Willis Museum Of Kitsch collection! Many more surprises at this outrageous multimedia live feast for the eyes, ears and soul!! Tickets, thankfully going fast, are here.
Third, we are making fairly stunning progress on "The D" record and video, both of which are in the area of 85/90% finished. We are constantly diverted from the filmmaking mission having to prepare things like a marketing deck and a movie trailer so we can all stop eating up to the green edges of our food and raise some real money to get this car on the road. But I must admit, despite the financial deprivation - PLEASE COME TO THE BENEFIT ON JULY 12 - we are all having the time of our lives working on something this creative and worthwhile. All we do is laugh, and all we do is feel better and better about what we're doing every time we look at the joy pouring out of Detroiters eyes, mouths and hearts as we pull everything together.
Exciting news on "The D" song front is that Detroit's own Maejor, an artist with hundreds of millions of YouTube views and the smoothest voice this Motor City side of Marvin Gaye, is the latest superstar to add his voice to the record.
Plus recent interviews for Allee Willis Loves Detroit, the film, include the multi-seriesed Michael Patrick King, the shy and retiring Jenifer Lewis, the demure Sandra Bernhard, and Earth, Wind & Fire's stupendous Philip Bailey, among illustrious others.
Onward, Detroit! And remember to gimme some gas money on July 12 or pop it down here if you're in generous spirit and unable to attend.
April 1, 2015
I know, I know... It's been pathetically long since my last update. That might be because of the 20-hour-days-minimum-six-days-a-week schedule those of us working on the Detroit record, video, and film have been adhering to, handstitching everything together as if we were Betsy Ross making that flag. There have been great, jubilant days…
…as well as days that make you want to roll onto the freeway and pray an 18 wheeler puts you out of your misery....
But that's the life of an independent 99%-self funded artist and I wouldn't change anything for the world. Well, I WOULD love someone to dunk me into a big ol' vat of Lincolns...
Old photo I know… If you can't tell by the lack of wrinkles on my face you can certainly tell by it being the last time I ever wore a dress. But aside from that I leave each day totally uplifted by the spirit pouring out of the footage and sounds leaping off the record. Wish I could leak a teeeeeny tiny sample but let's just say that no other city has had a song that sounded so insanely jubilant and looked quite so unique.
I don't wanna let too much cat outta the bag until we premiere the record and video in Detroit this SEPTEMBER. Now that the year-long jotting down of logs has ended the video's about 60% finished. In the meantime we've also begun interviewing some of my esteemed friends and colleagues for Allee Willis Loves Detroit, the film. The bounty includes this young Detroiter:
...and this young man who gave me my big break by having me write for his group, Earth, Wind & Fire:
The celeb list in the film is long because people have a lot to say about Detroit (and apparently me). This includes many Color Purple people and a stunning array of Grammy, Emmy, Tony, Academy Award, and Pulitzer Prize winners, a smattering of whom we've filmed so far including RuPaul, Ricki Lake, Bruce Vilanch, Lesley Ann Warren, Marsha Norman, and Luenell with a whole slew yet to come.
Not to say that the finish line of the feature film is in sight but we are crawling towards it with skinned knees, blisters on our fingers and faith in our hearts!
As for "The D", the record is about 95% done. Just in need of us moving out of my home studio – not to berate my little studio which back in the day James Brown called one of the best and funkiest sounding in LA - but so we have a shot at mixing in more opportune acoustic conditions so the 40 basses, 35 guitars and over 5000 singers don't make everything too wobbly sounding as they bounce off the heads of Sammy Davis Jr., Groove On Brother, and other soulful onlookers here at Willis Wonderland.
We've also been putting together a marketing deck so we can raise real money to get "The D"/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit finally on the road. As all of us normally peer through artists' eyes we had no idea what we were doing here and this took some months of concentration not to mention putting any further record, video or documentary editing on hold.
If you know of any deep pocket persons or company/institutions that should see our lovely and provocative marketing deck please let me know. And to drop a few coins of your own in the tank you can always go here.
In the meantime, go on wit yo bad self, Detroit!
Yours in/for The D,
September 30, 2014
For the past few few years now on the "BaDeYa, say do you remember 21st night of September", my blessed and magic day because it's the first line in the first hit record I ever had, I've made a tradition of performing live, something that took me over three decades to get together. Other than last year when I was in Detroit conducting one of the 50 sing-alongs for "The D", the official unofficial theme song I cowrote for Detroit, in a laundromat with people essentially spinning around in dryers while singing.
As luck would have it, THIS year was a particularly special September 21st as just a couple days earlier NPR did a story on why "September", co-written with Maurice White and Al McKay, remains such a timeless song, symbolizing warmth, love, and soul.
This year September 21 was even more special because I decided to perform live for the very first time EVER in Detroit, my beloved hometown for whom I've (unofficially) been slaving away on a project, "The D", a record and multiple music videos, and Allee Willis Loves Detroit, a feature length film, for the last 2 1/2 years. As such, my co-writer and partner on the music portion of the project, Andrae Alexander, and I put together a 15 piece band made up of the very best musicians and singers we found during the 50 D sing-alongs we led last year to perform live with us in the show, BaDeYa, Detroit!.
We also wanted to give everyone a preview of the song which finally has a preliminary mix after over a solid year of trying to deal with 5000 vocal and instrument tracks, each one with up to hundreds of voices on them. There's just so much room in the sound spectrum and every inch of it we have taken up truly sounds like something you have never heard before. We also gave the audience a sneak peak at the beginnings of the first of many music videos to follow. (Sorry - no preview here; only a few shots so you can see it ain't no normal thang and to insure that you get the full punch once the first video's actually delivered.)
For an artist such as myself who dotes on every detail of a stage production from designing the invitations to handmaking the set, picking theme food, designing the merchandise, casting people who help us like I'm casting characters in a musical, shipping 20 crates of everything to Detroit, directing, co-producing, and doing just about everything else involved in a production - albeit all with fantastic collaborators - this was no easy feat. And performing out of town for essentially the first time in my adult life makes that even harder. But don't even ask me how worth it it was!!! Easily one of the best days/nights of my life was this "21st (almost) night of September"!
We performed at United Sound, a still-in-existence historic recording studio in Detroit where everyone from Charlie Parker to The Rolling Stones and some of my all-time favorite records like Isaac Hayes' "Shaft", The Dramatics' "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get", and Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" were recorded.
But to turn a brilliant recording studio into a brilliant performance space is another issue entirely, especially when it involves things like sets, choreographed videographers who leap over drums on crash cymbal cues and organ sweeps, and all the other madness that goes into an Allee Willis production.
Of this now 2 1/2 year Detroit gargantuan mofo project, "The D" and Allee Willis Willis Loves Detroit, the feature-length film about human spirit as seen through the people of Detroit and how my life, a constant conscious battle to keep my own spirit going, parallels that struggle, 99% of it has been funded by me. (Put some gas money here please.) So this meant getting people involved in BaDeYa, Detroit! working for gratis. Which they thankfully, gratefully, and miraculously did. From the band to just about everyone else who worked in any capacity on the show. They are saints. They are insanely talented. They are blissfully soulful, and primary examples of why I feel so compelled to make a film about the people of Detroit and how it is THEY who will rebuild the city because of their resilient spirit.
I want to give a special shout out to Malcolm Haris and Donnevan Tolbert, two young gentleman I saw play Mister and Harpo when their high school, Cass Tech, became the first in the country to license the musical I cowrote, The Color Purple, a couple years ago, and who did a brilliant spoken word intro to my show.
And I want to thank the five brilliant dancers from The Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit, one of the two beneficiaries of all profits from my Detroit efforts, who donned mechanics uniforms and spun car tires over their heads during the sneak peak world premiere of the first mix of "The D" and boogied their butts off during my second hit, "Boogie Wonderland".
I want to also thank the stupendous audience not only for showing up, as songwriters remain the buried treasure of the music industry, but also for participating so wildly so that the show came off just as I had prayed it would. Like a party in my living room. And if you don't know my reputation for throwing parties you better go here now.
As a result of having so much fun not to mention hitting a new plateau in my budding performing career, I love Detroit even more than I have kvelled about it before, as if that was even possible. And I will eternally love the 21st of September for doing everything from giving me a second birthday because every year since I wrote it I hear from thousands of people that day telling me how happy the song makes them feel. This year it made me the happiest of all.
I hope you can see the spirit that was jumping off of the stage and ricocheting back to us in all the above photos. That room was an automatic power generator and from what I've heard everyone, certainly including me, is still buzzing. So BaDeYa Detroit!
July 15, 2014
Allee Willis and "The D" update: Computer Hell/Detroit Heaven!
I know. It's been pathetically long since my last update. This is not due to inactivity! We've been having 12 hour days here at Willis Wonderland since January and STILL haven't quite gotten through all the footage and recording tracks, close to 3000 hours and 5000 tracks respectively, for "The D" record and multiple music videos, and Allee Willis Loves Detroit our feature-length hybrid documentary. Not that this has been driving us crazy or to drink.
There are a lot of D deputies in the way of engineers, editors, and assorted characters here every day:
I know it might seem like we do a lot of lying around but this rarely occurs unless eyeballs start rolling in the back of our heads after working 16 straight hours looking at 743 takes of various groups singing the same line. Two of these folks in the above photo are gone already. We hate to lose them, well one of them at least, but when one is paying such a high salary, as close to zero dollars as humanly possible due to our expansive budget known as my pocket, these things are inevitable.
Challenges have abounded. Like having to replace my hundred terabyte server in the middle of editing and mixing so that master files are scattered around on a trillion different drives and computers as opposed to one central location while the switchover happens. So this includes helpful things like servers constantly going down or computers not being able to talk to each other, watching files getting eaten up before your eyes, overwriting files, and all the other joys that come with working in a part-time dysfunctional digital environment.
And then there was the hideous discovery that due to brain slippage of a certain IT person (no longer) working here nothing had been backed up since February and we lost at least a month's worth of footage of us figuring out how to jam thousands of voices and instruments into one record so everyone's heard. Not to mention the fits of hysteria incurred after looking at blurry key footage and figuring out how to work around it. This had me in a such a comatose state I had to shoot Vernor's, Detroit's beverage of choice, into my veins to keep me from slipping into a coma.
But the trauma has always been tamed by the joy of working on such a unique project. Sometimes we have even have FRIENDS drop in to bring us matzoh ball soup, cupcakes, and other modes of sustenance to remind us we have a life on the outside.
And now traveling for "The D" crew kicks up again. I will be spending one week out of each of the next four months in the Motor City, this month to attend my 107th high school reunion!
Then I return two weeks later in August to give a speech on Creativity And Detroit at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey, four hours from the city and where my parents bought their very first first house. Then I'm elated to report that on September 21 (yes, the "BaDeYa, say do you remember" 21st of September!) I will be performing LIVE in Detroit at the historic United Sound, the recording studio where the very first Motown records were made and still a vital part of Detroit music history. And then again at the end of October when the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple, comes back to the D for the fourth time, this time starring Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday, who I wrote for many a year ago and haven't seen since, making for a Dream D reunion! All these extravaganzas will be filmed and recorded for "The D" and Allee Willis Loves Detroit.
So as we cut and paste, chop, mix, curse, cry, hug and exhibit all the various kinds of behavior that come with undertaking a task of this girth I thank all of you who have donated or contributed your services thus far. It's not too late to donate!! We will do you proud!
Yours in The D,
The D/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit home: http://www.WeSingTheD.com
Sneak Peak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rkbTpZdxy8
WDIV/ NBC Allee Willis Does Detroit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8HdLEfw1zg
Fox 2 News: http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9361767
April 20, 2014
Greetings from your faithful, weary yet ecstatic, ever-editing Detroit and life-in-general cheerleader!
Calling (well, emailing) all you Angelinos + anyone else descending upon the (warm, sunny) LA city limits on the beautiful Sunday evening of May 4 to come to the famed UnCabaret for A SNAZZY BENEFIT SHINDIG for ALLEE WILLIS'S "THE D"!!
Featuring stories and sing-alongs to some of my l'il hits like "September," "Boogie Wonderland," "Neutron Dance," "I'll Be There for You (the Friends theme)", "What Have I Done To Deserve This?," "Stir It Up," "Lead Me On," and the karate chopping "You're The Best". Plus a "DBay" thrift shop auction and wayyyyy way more!! Not to mention a chance to join the thousands of uplifted folks already on "The D", a record, video and feature length film about human spirit as exemplified by the people of Detroit, which this special one-night-only performance benefits.
If you don't fully comprehend what the "THE D" is click HERE for a SNEAK PEEK.
If you need further proof that this is the real-deal-big-time thang check out what ran on WDIV/ NBC last week.
If you question whether you'll enjoy the music, 60,000,000 records and counting should tell you something.
If you aren't sure you'll spend an incredibly unique evening having a BALL, check out what People Magazine said of my soirees: "She throws parties that are works of art in themselves... the campiest hot tickets in LA."
All profits from "The D" go to two Detroit artistic crown jewels, The Heidelberg Project and Mosaic Youth Theatre Of Detroit.
Seating is very limited so get your tickets - so reasonably priced at $20 and $30 it's insane! - HERE. (http://uncabaret.laughstub.com/show.cfm?id=313501&cart) And if you want to go home with some of Allee's prized kitsch collection you might want to have a little cash on hand too. And if you can't come, please DONATE HERE.
Detroit and I hope to see you Sunday night, May 4, at 8 PM. Doors open at 7:30.
January 28, 2014
Finally!! Get out the ol' YouTube and enjoy this sneak peek at "The D"! (This is NOT the music video or film; just a sneak peek at what you can expect!) You can play this now or read a little more as I will kindly provide you with the link 30,000 times before the end of this update.
As we speak, I'm in my studio rolling my chair from one workstation to another as we simultaneously mix the 4000 vocal and instrument tracks for the record, and edit the 2000+ hours of footage into a music video, assorted trailers and a hybrid–documentary–but–not–really feature film. Normal life has ceased and no matter what other needs may need attending, work never stops!
In the nearly 2 years since I began working on "The D" there were times I was just inches away from pulling the plug because the financial and practical odds of getting thousands of Detroiters to sing a song and be in a film about human spirit on no budget just seemed too enormous. But make it to Detroit we did, in September - a magic month for me for obvious musical reasons - and again at Thanksgiving when I was such an exemplary float personality greeting the crowds as a block of ice being hauled down Woodward Ave., Detroit's main drag and first paved road in history, in the Thanksgiving Day Parade:
As usual, massive thanks and eternal gratitude to those of you who have already donated or participated in the making of "The D". Now that everyone else can finally get a hint of what we're doing I hope many of you reading this will follow suit and help us finish by adding some gas in the tank.
If you like what you see please please please spread the link to this "D" sneak peek around: http://youtu.be/4rkbTpZdxy8
If you want to donate go here: http://www.gofundme.com/3btivk
For complete info on "The D" go here: http://www.wesingthed.com
And If you know some nice rich person or place with excellent taste and a whole lotta soul who might make this next part of our journey a little easier in the way of coin, please email me immediately!
I can guarantee you "The D" is a view of Detroit you've never seen before. I can guarantee you it's an accurate one. And I can promise you it will make you smile. When it comes to soul - SERIOUSLY - there ain't no place like the Motor City!
My "D" best,
And, by the way, have you seen this excellent sneak peek of "The D"?
December 15, 2013
I'm back from Detroit where I got to ride on the Wizard of Oz float in the televised Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade! TOTAL BLAST other than I had to get up at 5 AM when I'm usually just climbing into bed, and it was snowing and FREEZING and I'm the type who squirms when it dips below 70. So although I had on a perfectly Wizard-themed yellow brick road suit, most of the time down the 3 1/2 mile parade route I looked like this:
Only when we reached the "televised zone" did my frozen appendages manage to stand up:
By the time I even reached the float my limbs were already blocks of ice after conducting 150 Michigan Pom-Pom Girls doing "The D" at the start of the parade. Though I'm missing in this photo it's a very nice shot of Ruben Studdard's head as he ignores our performance:
Speaking of ignoring performances, here I am as Rodriquez warmed up inside with my crew:
Post Pom Pom conducting I was whisked away in a golf cart, whipping through marching Christmas fairies and Santa Clauses at 30 mph with no windshield for a 3 mile arctic ride down Woodward Ave. to catch up with the float I was to ride atop. As I mentioned in my last update, I've never even seen the Wizard of Oz. The munchkiny repetitiveness of that "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead" refrain always drove me nuts. But as soon as my foot, now resembling a frozen steak, set down on the float "Ding Dong" started blasting and I realized I would have to listen to it 600 times by the time we reached the end of the parade route. Had the witch not already died in the song I would've killed her myself. Despite this, it was the thrill of a lifetime and thank you so much WDIV, the NBC affiliate in Detroit, for placing me on the yellow brick road. (And for having the foresight to do a half hour special on the making of "The D"!).
Along with my stupendous crew we also recorded and filmed more sing-alongs of "The D" while in the Motor City. These included singing animals,...
...a plethora of bass and guitar players playing the same part at the exact same time, blasting out a thunderous, fat, obese bottom under a funktified chicken scratch rhythm wonderland,...
...roller skating champs in the form of Detroit Derby Girls,…
... hardware enthusiasts,...
... and another Hardcore Pawn point thrown in for good measure.
Thank you to Busy Bee Hardware, American Jewelry & Loan, United Sound, Detroit Bass Players, Metro Detroit Area Guitar Players, Maxie Ford, All About Animals Rescue, Detroit Derby Girls and the Masonic Temple for your dulcet tones and incredible support of the D and "The D". To see photos from all the locations and Detroit superstars we shot go here.
Oh, and stumbling on this as I roamed the streets of Detroit wasn't bad either:
Now the editing begins! Donations please if you'd like to hop in the car and help me drive toward the finish line.
Big D love with lots more to come,
November 24, 2013
I'm donning my ruby red slippers and jetting to Detroit to ride high atop the NBC-WDIV Wizard of Oz float in the Thanksgiving Day Parade (!!!) and to do 10 more sing-alongs for "The D".
If you haven't seen photos from the last 40, yes FOURTY, sing-alongs we did in Detroit in September, capturing thousands and thousands of people singing and cavorting on "The D", check out these beautiful people NOW!
This time we're going back and filming everyone from hundreds of Motown-born bass and guitar players - all playing at once for one THUNDEROUS "D" sound! - to Roller Derby skaters, bakers, rabbis, pom pom girls, carpenters and canines– yes, they sing too! Here, in fact, is a Miniature Pinscher soloing with me at one of the September sing-alongs:
If you happen to be in Detroit this Saturday, the 30th, please join us at an open-to-the-public sing-along at 11 AM with the All About Animals Rescue at Bob Maxie Ford, 1833 Jefferson Ave. and you can sing along with the dogs too!
So please wish me, my 12 person crew, 7 video cameras, 11 still cameras, 1 helicopter camera, 8 suitcases I'm taking for a 6 day shoot, 11 scarves and 13 beanies I'm packing in my sparkly ruby red carry-on so I don't die of hypothermia on the float good luck as we STOMP UP THE SPIRIT in the Motor City once again!
By the way, the irony of me riding on the Wizard of Oz float has not escaped me or anyone who knows me well. I am the ONLY person in the WORLD who has never seen the movie.
Last but certainly not least, as "The D" has grown into something far more MASSIVE than I ever dreamed, your DONATIONS would be most appreciated. This is a song/record/music video/feature-length documentary about the triumph of human spirit as exhibited by the people of Detroit who never stop smiling, never look back, and who aren't waiting for the government or any bankruptcy crap to reimagine their city. The sheer chutzpah, imagination, and belief of self there is truly INSPIRATIONAL. It's a story for everyone, not just Detroit.
My D best,
October 07, 2013
Got back to LA from leg #1 of "The D", my song/video/documentary tribute to the SOUL of Detroit, last week sick as a dog, happy as a clam, and just now rising from the dead to finally write this update. After a year and a half of ups and downs including times I didn't even know if we were going to make it to Detroit I can honestly say these were among the all-time greatest three weeks of my life! And an exceedingly auspicious debut for "The D".
Michigan Opera Theatre Children's Choir:
First off, I was blessed with the single best team I have ever worked with. Everyone - from my collaborator, Andrae Alexander, to Director Danny Franzese and Producer Jason Yamas, through the camera and sound crews, interns, assistants, volunteers, et al - was talented, bright, diligent, generous, funny, and fun, and I can't wait until we all work together again. Which, if our progress in Detroit is any indication, will be VERY soon.
Empire Boxing Gym:
I created "The D" because I love Detroit and every time I go back I meet more and more incredible people who believe in the city and are doing incredibly positive things to reimagine it.
The Greening Of Detroit:
But if I loved Detroiters for their spirit and resiliency before this trip it's nothing compared to the love affair I have with them now. At location after location we were greeted with the biggest smiles and enthusiasm that one could ever hope to experience.
The Fisher Theatre:
Detroiters' love for their city is palpable, infectious and ever-growing.
Mosaic Youth Theatre:
Detroit is beautiful. Really, you have to drive deep around to find all the rubble that the media and most documentaries done about Detroit constantly exploit. I can't even tell you the joy we all felt at every single location as people swelled with pride singing and performing "The D". You can experience some of their comments here.
The Heidelberg Project:
Now that we're back, "The D" adventure shifts into second gear. Starting today, Andrae and I begin going through the literally thousands of tracks of music in LA while Jason leads a New York crew going through the over 700 hours of footage.
Pasteur elementary school:
In addition, the crew will be most likely be reuniting in several different cities to film and record more prominent Detroiters. We will also most likely be returning to Detroit very soon to do something very big that I'm dying to announce here but it's not 100% yet so that will just have to wait for the next update.
College For Creative Studies:
I'm also in the midst of building photo pages for each location we shot at. These will all hopefully be up online within a couple of weeks so I will have that link in the next update I send you.
African Bead Museum:
Thanks to all of you again who so generously donated, volunteered, or participated in "The D". And a massive shout-out again to The Detroit Historical Society for its immeasurable and continuing help and for giving this scrapyard daughter a permanent and immortal home in the cement!
Detroit Historical Society:
"The D" was blessed with great news coverage while we were there. You can see the spirit I'm talking about in the following stories. Here's a piece that ran on NBC News and here's one that ran on Fox. NBC is also preparing a half hour special on "The D".
My very best,
September 20, 2013
I really meant to be sending out far more of these updates but the schedule is thankfully and gratefully so packed here in Detroit that I can barely get into bed before it's time to get up and start singing again. The participation here has been insanely enthusiastic and wonderful. Here's are photos from some of the sing-alongs we've done so far. Will send more in a few days. We've also been blessed with a lot of press including this piece that ran on NBC News here last night in Detroit last night.
If you're in Detroit or know any Detroiters who are here there are two open to the public sing-alongs. The first is this Sunday at 3 PM in front of the House of Soul at the Heidelberg Project. The second is September 25 at 3 PM at the Detroit Historical Society. All are welcome though you are encouraged to learn the song before you come. http://www.alleewillis.com/WeSingTheD/
Some of the soul sightings as people break it out for "The D":
Mumford High School:
My graduating class at Mumford High School:
Detroit Dog Rescue:
American Jewelry & Loan (Hard Core Pawn):
Motown! (with Paul Riser, Funk Brother and arranger extraordinaire, Paul Riser Jr., the original Motown engineers who literally built the studio, and the family of legendary Motown bass player, James Jamerson):
The Deep River Y:
Henry The Hatter:
Detroit Yacht Club:
Consumer Auto Parts:
Schulze Academy (my elementary school):
Ebenezer Baptist Church:
September 6, 2013
Hard to believe that after working on "The D" a solid year and a half, my ever-growing crew of 15 and I are descending upon Detroit in less than a week to record the song, video and feature length documentary. We'll be recording and filming groups of 50 to 1000 people at each of 40+ locations where people will be singing "The D", dancing, and showing their Motor City spirit however they can. Nothing like this has ever seen attempted- not just the largest number of people ever on a record, but the largest number of people as the original artist on a record. A partial list of locations participating is at the end of this email.
Over the past couple of weeks I've been recording incredible Detroit born singers, songwriters, musicians, comedians, and actors here at my studio in LA – groundbreaking Motown songwriters and producers like Lamont Dozier and Mickey Stevenson, former Supremes Mary Wilson and Scherrie Payne, singers Freda Payne, Marcella Detroit, Pam and Joyce Vincent, Diane Steinberg, daughter of legendary Detroit DJ Martha Jean The Queen, comedians Lily Tomlin and Angela Shelton, and musicians like Greg Phillinganes, Ray Parker Jr., Reggie McBride and Bruce Miller - with a lot more to come. Here's some of the action in my studio over the past week:
Massive thanks again to all of you who donated moolah to make this truly historic song, video, documentary and collaboration with the people of Detroit possible. As the scale of this project involves tens of thousands of people and a 20 day/ 40+ location shoot, not to mention postproduction and all else involved in finishing the project we are still actively seeking funding. I've started another online fundraising campaign at http://www.gofundme.com/3btivk. I haven't made a big deal about this one. It's just there for generous souls who want to be part of something truly inspirational. We are also seeking larger donor sponsors and/or angels. You can email me back with any inquiries about that.
Thanks to the following locations where we'll be filming and recording "The D". Two of the sing-alongs at The Heidelberg Project, Friday, September 13th 10:30am and Saturday, September 21st at 3pm are, open to the public. A schedule will soon be published at http://www.alleewillis.com/WeSingTheD/.
The Detroit Historical Society and Museum
The Dossin Maritime Museum on Belle isle
Detroit Yacht Club
Mumford High School
Pasteur Elementary School
Schulze Elementary School
Martin Luther King High School and marching band
Wayne State University
College For Creative Studies
Academy of Rock
Rock Ventures/ Opportunity Detroit
The Heidelberg Project
Mosaic Youth Theatre
The Fisher Building
Greg's Soul In The Wall restaurant
Consumer Auto Parts
American Jewelry & Loan (Hard Core Pawn)
U Detroit/ Harmonie Park
Henry The Hatter
African Bead Museum
Lululemon at Eastern Market - largest yoga class ever in Detroit - 500 people
Michigan Opera Theatre
The Ford Piquette Ave. Plant
Campus Martius Park
The Alley project (TAP)
Detroit Synergy - biking event
Historic St. James Baptist Church
The Greening Of Detroit
Detroit Dog Rescue/ HUSH
Church of the Messiah
Deep River Y Choir/ Comerica Park
Russell Industrial Center
Ebenezer Baptist Church
Michigan State University Community Music School
Woodbridge Housing Complex
Now just about all that's left is to board the plane to Detroit!!
July 28, 2013
The wheels have begun to roll really fast now that we are only 5+ weeks out from going to Detroit to record and film "The D"!
First, an incredible array of fantastic locations in Detroit have signed on to let us record and film there. They go from iconic outdoor locations both on land and water to inside museums, restaurants, schools, churches, synagogs, laundromats, car washes, radio stations, pawn shops, hat shops, hotels, recording studios, yoga studios, weave salons, and more. From the largest business enterprise in the city to the smallest hole-in-the-wall restaurant "The D" is representing the most vibrant spots and folks in the city. Not to mention a slew of famous singers and musicians who hail from the Motor City and will be coming to my studio in LA to participate.
I arrive in Detroit with a 12 person crew on September 9. We will be there through the end of the month in order to have enough material for the song, video and documentary. Most of us live in Los Angeles and New York and share a deep love of and belief in Detroit. We will also be picking up many local crew members, interns and volunteers once we're there.
I was in Detroit earlier this month hosting two fundraisers generously thrown for us by two amazing restaurants, The Whitney, and Vinsetta Garage. The Whitney was a 150 person event featuring sing-alongs and a great live 60s/70s funk band whereas the dinner at Vinsetta was a higher ticket, more intimate evening of just 25 people and about four hours of constant (incredible and mind blowing) food. I was most excited when Mary Wilson of the original Supremes walked into that one!
My third night in Detroit was spent at the Detroit Historical Museum where my portrait and some personal artifacts were on display as part of an exhibit featuring 50 iconic Detroiters in Jenny Risher's beautiful Heart Soul Detroit book. A truly incredible moment for me, whose only music education was worshiping Motown, was when I walked in to see myself featured as part of the Motown section of the exhibit. Here I am with Martha Reeves (Martha & The Vandellas), Mary Wilson (The Supremes) and Miss Maxene Powell, the Motown etiquette coach who gave the groups all their signature poise and grace.
I want to especially thank the Detroit Historical Museum and the Detroit Historical Society for the great interest and support they have shown to "The D" ever since this most wonderful evening.
At the end of this coming week, I'm hosting a week-long production confab at my house in LA where the director, producer and other principals will be flying in to plan the actual production schedule and figure out the logistics of such an ambitious project. We are incredibly well organized for something of this scale on the somewhat limited budget we have (and why the search for funding will continue until the very last frame of the documentary is cut). Every single person on the team now is beyond enthusiastic and ready to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to get this done, my personality MO since the beginning of my career. I can't tell you how great and inspiring it is to work inside of an energy force like this and I hope as "The D" is realized and these updates get more consistent that that energy will uplift you as well. Once again, I want to thank everyone who so astutely and boldly donated to "The D". I also want to thank people receiving this because you've signed up to participate as well as those who came to the parties at The Whitney and Vinsetta Garage. It's that spirit that has kept Detroit going through the decades of glut and gluttony and it's certainly the primary force in re-imagining the city now.
For more information on "The D" go here.
To learn the actual song go here.
For more of Allee's Detroit go here.