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 filmhave 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!
All around it was a very good SEPTEMBER week here at Willis Wonderland LA as well as Willis W in Detroit.
Yes I know there is a Willis Street in almost every major city in the country. But this particular one is not only the exact spot my parents first met when they lived kitty corner from each in Detroit oh so may years ago, but it’s also the street that was taken over to make way for this intersection below, in a housing complex started by retired Motown singers and where we sang one of the sing-alongs for “The D” record and videos.
As the reliably magic day – the 21st of September – approached, NPR did a great story on the timelessness of my very first hit, “September”, co-written with Al McKay and Maurice White. Professors of Musicology even broke it down for analysis as to why it is so eternally happy and a song that will literally never end.
0It’s been decades now that every weekend I receive at least 5 videos of the song played at someone’s wedding or drunken karaoke spree or there’s a bar mitzvah boy spinning around his blond dream girl, anywhere and everywhere happiness is the intention. And indeed THAT makes me very happy!
Then I had literally one if the greatest days of my life in Detroit on THE BaDeYa 21st of September when I performed my very sold out “BaDeYa, Detroit!” show, featuring a 15 piece band put together from musicians and singers we discovered at the sing-alongs and while filming the feature-length-exceedingly-hybrid-documentary, Allee Willis Loves Detroit.
The show/party also included dancers from Mosaic Youth Theatre Of Detroit, one of “The D”/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit’s beneficiaries, spinning car tires over their heads, choreographed videographers leaping over drums on cymbal crashes and organ sweeps, as well as the obligatory obsessive amount of junk food I subsist on.
And then how much better does it get when you get Tavis Smily in an Afro (attempting to) shake his booty to ’September”’s sister, “Boogie Wonderland”, on Dancing With The Stars, all in the same week?! Though he sported one of those chopped down naturals when a good footlong Billy Preston was called for.
I have been blessed with a wonderful (albeit challenging) life and am living my creative (albeit money challenged) dream right now and I thank all of you who made it possible! Remember to throw some gas money in the tank please.
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 unofficial official 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 as well as all of these. That room was an automatic power generator and from what I’ve heard everyone, certainly including me, is still buzzing. So BaDeYa Detroit!
CALLING ALL DETROITERS! I will be APPEARING LIVE for the first time EVER in the Motor City 3 PM, Sunday, “the 21st (almost) night of September”! Andrae and I plus a 10 piece band – singers, dancers, tires, fire eaters, live tigers – well, a couple of those may not be true but I guarantee you it will be a spectacle among spectacles!
BaDeYa DETROIT features sing-alongs to my some of my greatest greatest hits like ’September”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Neutron Dance”, the Friends theme, not to mention a not-ready-to-be-released-yet-but-needle-drop preview of “The D”! and is all happening at Detroit’s most historic recording studio – the immortal United Sound, 5840 2nd Ave., Detroit, MI 48202, Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 3 PM. Here’s the ticket link. Click NOW for maximum enjoyment as seating is very limited!
A couple of Allee Willis Live enticing quotes:
“Invitations to Allee Willis’s ultra-exclusive … parties are the campiest hot tickets in LA.” – People Magazine
The unpretentious and effortlessly hilarious Willis stood before her mic cracking jokes and spinning alternately hilarious and touching anecdotes… Billed as a “songwriter, live performer, visual artist, and iconic party thrower”,…the indefatigable and gifted Willis lives up to all of the hype, and more. Who else can one think of who created a marathon catalog of beloved chart-topping songs beginning in the late 1970s, wrote background score and songs for a 1980s movie blockbuster (“Beverly Hills Cop”) and “I’ll Be There For You,” the theme for the iconic long- running sitcom (“Friends”), and ultimately added to her incredibly eclectic repertoire in late career by co-writing a wondrous Broadway musical in 2005 (“The Color Purple”)?…Willis simultaneously projects counter-culture hipster and dearly beloved auntie. There’s plenty of warmth and refreshing humility mixed in with her thumb-your-nose attitude. – The Edge Media Network.
So please BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW for a magic carpet ride to Happy Land on the 21st day of September!!
Sorry, sorry, sorry for no new entries in an eternity. I’m working around several clocks and all the energy that used to be poured into this blog has to now go into slogging through the close to 5000 vocal tracks and 3000 hours of footage so that I can complete “The D”/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit before my 100th birthday. Although joyous work for a completely worthy cause – DETROIT! – it all makes me very tired, especially when the 100 Terrabye server goes down and makes my collaborator, Andrae Alexander, and I experience death by technology.
So I am putting a convenient little button to transport you to Facebook where I now say in relatively few characters what I used to put into my often novel-like blog. That way you can experience at least some of my day, though I am far from the type whose fingers are constantly tapping the keys to tell everyone what I’m up to.
I’ve been online since 1991. I came up with the concept of a social network in 1992. I’m not someone who blogs because you have to blog or tweets because you have to tweet or puts incessant photos of my food and footwear on Instagram. I have always lived by the rule that my creative flow was a little garden that I had to nurture. So please enjoy the flowers at the above link and I shall be back to blog when time, the gods and my overstuffed brain allow it.
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.
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”?
So 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.
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.
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.
African Bead Museum:
Thanks to all of you again who so generously donated, volunteered, or participated in “The D”. Donations still happily accepted here. 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 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”.
I really meant to be doing 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.
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. You can get it here: https://www.alleewillis.com/WeSingTheD/
Here’s some photos from some of the sing-alongs we’ve done so far for “The D”:
My graduating class at Mumford High School:
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):
Ebenezer Baptist Church: