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, Paul Riser 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:

Mary Wilson:

Lamont Dozier:

Lily Tomlin:

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”. One of the sing-alongs at The Heidelberg Project, Saturday, September 21st at 3pm is open to the public.  A schedule will soon be published at https://www.alleewillis.com/WeSingTheD/.

The Detroit Historical Society and Museum
The Dossin Maritime Museum on Belle isle
Detroit Yacht Club
D-Hive
Mumford High School
Pasteur Elementary School
Martin Luther King High School and marching band
Wayne State University
College For Creative Studies
Eastern Market
Temple Israel
Academy of Rock
Rock Ventures/ Opportunity Detroit
Radio One
The Heidelberg Project
Mosaic Youth Theatre
The Whitney
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
Lafayette Laundry
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!!

Onward!

Allee

 

 

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.

Here’s a detail of The Majestic’s majesty:

Unfortunately, the skies weeped steadily throughout the day, making decent photos next to impossible unless one was out to amplify the decay of the city, in which case the incessant downpour added just enough teardrops to slam that sentiment home. Most of my shots look like this:

Which is a shame, as to miss the details of a combo Church and car wash is a waste of excellent kitsch:

Just about the only clear shots I got was when I got out of the car,…

…or some of my car-mates did,…

…or when the rain wasn’t spitting into the car, with the window rolled down. Thankfully it stopped for a few minutes when I snapped these murals at the Eastern Market:

Sometimes the gloominess of the skies enhanced the experience of what we were looking at.

Perfect for a place that’s a Home For Funerals as opposed to merely a Funeral Home. Then again, it’s right next door to the happiest place on earth, Motown.

Growing up, I spent many a Saturday afternoon planted on this front lawn, trying to catch a bass note or background vocal seeping through the walls.

I make a pilgrimage to the front lawn every time I go home. In the early 1980s I even got into the actual recording studio when The Detroit Free Press did a story on me growing up in Detroit and how, as a songwriter, I was influenced by Motown.

But, alas, fate was not as kind this time. Had I stashed the three video cameras and four still cams away I could have marched through the studio again. But I had no interest, especially on this trip, in having any significant moment of my life pass by without being digitally preserved. So the closest I got was the hallway as no filming was allowed.

The woman at the desk was really nice. She knew who I was as soon as I walked in as she had seen me on the news the morning before. But rules are rules. Even though I’ve collaborated with some of Motown’s greatest songwriters, like Lamont Dozier

… and Ashford & Simpson, seen here with me and Maurice White, founder and lead singer of Earth Wind & Fire, and LaChanze, the Tony-winning actress who played Celie in the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple.

So we piled back in the car and were off to enjoy more of Detroit.

I would have enjoyed it more if the BBQ joint in front of that mural were still open:

Michael had been over to my place in LA about nine months earlier so I wasn’t worried about him showing us the usual tour suspects – The Detroit Institute Of Art, The Detroit Historical Society, The Spirit of Detroit, etc. All completely beautiful and historic but I wanted to see the spirit of the city as evidenced through how people express themselves via their homes, lawns and businesses. I’ve long believed that one’s immediate environment is a canvas for self expression. And places like this would be off the beaten track of any normal tour guide:

Talk about expressing yourself via your home…:

This is The Heidleberg Project, named for the street that artist Tyree Guyton took over 25 years ago and decorated houses, lawns and empty lots on two blocks of.  SPECTACULARLY INSPIRING:

 

One of the great promises of Detroit is that artists can live cheaply and express themselves in novel ways not possible in other cities. Like Ice House Detroit, a 2010 project where two photographers took over an abandoned house, hosed it down til it was an ice cave and then photographed it melting, symbolizing the building up and subsequent melting away of the once great Detroit.

Detroit is full of such self expression:

Artists see the future first – their way is to dream and paint that picture for everyone else. Reinvention and constantly shifting one’s perspective to stay inspired is as vital for places as it is for people. There’s a great effort in Detroit to redesign the city the artists’ way. In fact, one of my reasons for being there this particular week was to be the closing keynote speaker on that very subject at the Rust Belt To Arts Belt conference happening the next day.

But back to the streets… Rain-soaked as this photo is, I hope you can see the use of industrial materials on the facade of this otherwise traditional brick building. Up close it looks like a bunch of sawed-in-half hot water heaters. I love stuff like this.


There are so many beautiful abandoned buildings, waiting for artists to see their beauty and reinvent their once greatness.

And it’s not like artists can’t afford to live in Detroit.

Thankfully, someone bought the old Michigan Central train station. From what I understand, there are plans to renovate.

Forgotten by time, vandalized by squatters and ravers, its internal beauty still shines through.

It was getting late so we headed back as I had to go over my speech about the rejuvenation of Detroit I was giving the next day. I was pretty sure I had it down but wanted to make sure there were no crucial mistakes or  misspellings to trip me up. Sometimes even the most straight-ahead missives go awry. Like at this McDonalds, just a couple blocks from Vince’s, where we had dinner and which I’ll blog about tomorrow. I know they mean a 20 piece chicken McNugget dinner for $4.99 but if I’m to believe the sign it’s 20 P’s of cchcken uggets for four hundred ninety nine dollars.

Which makes it just slightly cheaper than some of the houses in Detroit. Calling all artists!!

I pity the fool who doesn’t dig all the way down into his/her pockets on this, the most dreaded of days, Income Tax Day, and cough up what little is left in the coffers. Don’t get me started on this topic, how none of the greedy, disgusting suits have been prosecuted for turning the world upside down, leaving the rest of us to walk around with this same bewildered Mr. T look on our faces as the calendar strikes 4/15, or as it is this year, 17.

Somehow, this almost foot-high hollow-headed Mr. T bank doesn’t have the same determined look that Mr. T usually has in his press shots or the plethora of merchandise that sprung out of his B. A. Baracus run on the A-Team.

I’m not sure I’d like to smell like Mr. T.

Mr. T probably had nothing to grimace about on Income Tax Day back in the 80’s when The A-Team was running strong and he could afford enough gold chains so that if there’s any problem these days all he has to do is sell some of them.

Instead of rippled flesh, this Mr. T bank is made of super hard plastic. As a consequence, the coins reverberate so when they drop into Mr. T’s cavernous head it makes me think this is a better percussion instrument than bank. Which is probably best given how cheaply this lump o’ Mr. T is made. You literally have to cut a hole in the bottom to get the coins out. Which means, of course, you can never use it as a bank again as there’s no way to re-insert the plastic which is surely jagged, sharp and misshapen after using an ice pick or whatever else it might take to puncture the exceedingly hard Mr. T.

Made by Ruby-Spears Enterprises in 1983, this is a relatively rare piece of Mr. T. memorabilia, with jewelry and other assorted bling, T-shirts, games, coloring books and A-Team vans far more locatable than this carefully coiffed bank. I don’t think I ever realized the Mr. T’s hairdo was an upside down T.

Income Tax Day causes a lot of people to experience angst, panic and other unpleasant human feelings. In many people this causes hair loss.

I’m not losing my hair but I do I wish I had a slot in my head today.

I’m so pathetically behind on everything following my Detroit trip – blogs to write, a documentary to make, getting all the Mumford marching band footage together for YouTube, not to mention my day job, songwriting. If someone could just turn me over and shake me, maybe all the extraneous thoughts would fall out and I’d just be left with the business at hand, mailing in my tax forms.

 

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!

My high school was made famous in Beverly Hills Cop when Eddie Murphy wore a Mumford Phys Ed T-shirt throughout the film. I won a Grammy for Best Soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop so my destiny and that of my high school  are inextricably linked.   Mumford is one of the largest schools in the city, 99% African-American and close to that percentage underprivileged. The Color Purple is about believing in and loving yourself, a rise from less nothing to everything that you never even dared to dream.  I want to instill that hope in these kids.

I know most of you don’t live in Detroit –  any of you who do please come to the Fox on Saturday April 9, from 11- 12:30 PM – but you  can still help us march. Please donate to help this most fabulous high school and help invigorate the spirit of Detroit.

And please forward the invitation or give the links to anyone you think might be interested in attending the event or donating to the cause. We need all the $$ we can get!

Invitation- https://www.alleewillis.com/mumfordinvite

All text version – https://www.alleewillis.com/mumfordinvite-text

Direct link to ticket/donation page: https://www.alleewillis.com/mumford

Today I’m having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my left knee. The operation, a relatively quick outpatient job, was supposed to occur on my right knee but after putting the surgery off for over a year and a half I favored the good leg so much that literally the day I finally scheduled the invasion the good knee went eeewwwrrripppp!!! and snapped just like the other one.  Calling Dr. Casey!!!

My doctor should only be as comely as Vincent Edwards, a.k.a. Dr. Ben Casey!

I know my injury occurred because I finally got into exercise mode a few months ago when I was invited back to my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, to conduct the 350 member marching band in a medley of my greatest hits at the Homecoming football game last October.

I got even more aggressive in my exercise routine when I found out I’m going back to Detroit to conduct my high school marching band playing my greatest hits in April at the historic Fox theater before a performance of my musical, The Color Purple. My high school was made famous in Beverly Hills Cop when Eddie Murphy wore a Mumford High T-shirt throughout the film.

I also received a Grammy for Best Soundtrack for BH Cop so my songs, “Neutron Dance” and “Stir It up”, are inextricably linked to my high school forever. As someone who’s main exercise has always been walking back and forth to the refrigerator, I went into overdrive conducting every tv commercial that came on, every YouTube video of any school band doing one of my songs, anything that could help raise my stamina so I’d be capable of jumping around and flailing my arms for 20 minutes straight. But I guess I just got too excited and ripped my other meniscus in the process, thus proving what I had told myself my whole life: exercise is the devil! (despite me being on the cover of the very first Richard Simmons exercise album, which I also co-wrote and produced. How kitschy is THAT?!!)

This previous no exercise philosophy of mine allowed me to sit on my ass much of my life, which allowed me to watch much television, which in turn allowed me to obsess over Dr. Ben Casey.

My knee surgery will probably be over by the time you read this and Vicodin will be swirling around inside, enhancing my enjoyment of Keeping up with the Kardassians, King of the Hill and all the other TV pacifiers I’ll  no doubt be sucking on once home. Too bad no one has thought to air reruns of Ben Casey.

I always thought that Dr. Casey’s mentor, Dr. Zorba, was very wise, albeit very shrivelled.

I’m glad that ol’ shriveled Dr. Zorba is still watching over Dr. Casey’s shoulder, though he looks ever more attractive now that he’s drenched in so much shadow:

I always loved when the man, woman, birth, death and infinity symbols were drawn in the opening titles of the show:

I’m happy to see that Dr. Zorba’s handiwork made it onto the wallet too:

I haven’t had a chance to clean the wallet yet. It looks like some biological specimens may have been left over from the former owner.

As such, l will most certainly not be carrying my Ben Casey wallet with me to the surgery center. I hadn’t planned to anyway as we all know that operations aren’t cheap and there’s only enough room for a few dollar bills in this wallet anyway.

I’m hoping that both Dr. Casey and Dr. Zorba’s spirits will be looking over my doctor’s shoulder when he goes to work on my knee. I hope my doctor has as excellent surgical skills as the young and dashing Ben Casey as I’m looking forward to having my knee back and doing spirited marching band formations around my living room very soon.

A happier leg makes for a much happier Allee!!

Although I’m not a massive fan of actual peanuts, I’ve always loved classic 1950’s plastic Mr. Peanut memorabilia. I love how the plastic glows with depth from the richness of the classic 50’s colors he came in, in this case perfect baby blue.

I also love the sound of coins dropping into Mr. Peanut’s all too small empty plastic gut.

The only other Mr. Peanut memorabilia I collect is also made of plastic. I have this cup in pink, yellow, red and the bank mate, baby blue.

I also have Mr. Peanut salt and pepper shakers. I love them for their diminutive stature compared to the bank and cup, but they stay too close to traditional peanut color and I like things that break more out-of-the-box.

I love Mr. Peanut’s stance.  He’s so casual.

I especially like his little thin legs and rolled down socks.

And he always looks so self-assured.

For all these reasons I like having Mr. Peanut and his multiple selves around my kitschen.

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Were it not for Gold Bell Gift Stamps I never would’ve had a new blanket or clock radio to go off to college with. I’m not sure where these stamps  were given out in Detroit, where I grew up,  but it had to have been an A&P or Kroger’s as that’s where my mom always did her shopping. I loved licking and pasting in all the stamps she brought home and I collected those books like they were diamonds knowing that I could cash them in on the items of my choice.

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It was definitely looking through the Gold Bell Gift Stamps catalog that my love of catalogs blossomed. It was absolutely mind boggling to me that you could actually get something for free and all it required was licking little stamps and gluing them onto the pages as the book got lumpy and lumpier, looking almost as if a pitcher of water had been poured on it the fuller it got. For someone who’s a paper freak like me it was just as thrilling to fill the book as it was to get the items the books were cashed in to get. In fact, sometimes I got so attached to the books as they warped as more and more stamps were pasted in that the book itself became more precious than the gift it could procure.

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I’m not sure if this hand-painted wooden counter sign was for Gold Bell Gift Stamps or whether there was an entirely different brand called, simply, Gold Stamps:

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Whatever the case, my tattered book of Gold Bell Gift Stamps, ready to be redeemed for a hood hairdryer, mohair argyle sweater or automatic hand mixer, looks very nice sitting next to it.

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I used to pour over this page making sure I had done everything right. I could smell the new pogo stick or 45 player as I filled in my name and address.

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I shall always love Gold Bell Gift Stamps for being a big part of my childhood. Past a certain point I just couldn’t give the books away anymore. I must’ve known somewhere in the back of my head I was going to have the world’s most gigantic memorabilia collection. So I have this book and a few spare stamps and that’s just as good as the portable TV I always wanted which took hundreds and hundreds of books that I never managed to amass before falling for a turtle bowl, dictionary or any of the other smaller gifts that made me feel rich as a Queen.

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This 100% genuine  piece of plastic toast wallet looks just like the real thing right down to the butter starting to melt into the cushiony fake leather wonderfulness of it all. It feels like  a big marshmallow in your hands and makes pulling out endless streams of cash a slightly more pleasant procedure.

Made in China for Accoutrements, the wallet is jumbo sized as if it needed to be big enough to accommodate a certifiKitsch of AuthentKitschity to vouch for the legitimacy of each dollar extracted from it.

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Maybe it’s a psychological thing to make you feel like there’s a never ending well of money tucked inside. One way or another, I like keeping this little snack in my purse. Sometimes I alternate with my other favorite wallet that’s more normal sized though still inedible but goes well with the toast wallet.

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The bacon wallet even has matching shoes:

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The toast wallet has no such matching ensemble but should it ever get cold enough here in LA I swear it’s large enough that I could tuck my hands into the marshmallowy flaps and stay warm.

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As you can tell from the photo, this “Lucky Penny” souvenir of Los Angeles is substantially larger than the real thing. It’s also so incredibly heavy that I suspect if I melted down it could pay for someone’s college education.   Although it’s dated 1920 it was made in the 1960’s. I’m not quite sure what the tie in was between a penny and Los Angeles but I’ve always felt incredibly lucky to live in LA so I maybe it’s just as simple as that.

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Very nice of the Federal Credit Union of Signal Hill, CA to give these promotional money sack banks to Long Beach city employees but the gift would have been ever more meaningful if it came with a little cash jingling inside, something I’m sure the employees needed more than this lump of clay.

I’m not sure what year this is from but it’s definitely after November, 1991 when the 310 area code went into effect in that part of the financial world.bank-Long-Beach-city-employees_2173

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