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.

BaDeYa!

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!

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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”?

Allee

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”:

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):

Martha Reeves:

The Deep River Y:

Henry The Hatter:

Detroit Yacht Club:

Consumer Auto Parts:

Schulze Academy (my elementary school)

Ebenezer Baptist Church:

Onward!

Allee

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

 

 

It’s no secret to anyone within miles of  my mouth that constantly babbles on about it that I love my hometown of Detroit, the city that gets more bad raps than an unpopular war, deadly criminals, and oil spills put together. If one had unprejudiced EYEballs to look through they would see the same beautiful and spirited city that I see, the one whose people – perhaps not those who fled to the lighter color suburbs  –  still believe in and wake up with the soul that Motown pumped into their veins still cursing through their bodies to make things better. Some of that stuff musta stuck personally to me as I seem to have become in my old age the cheerleader I always wanted to become in my young age, though now for the whole city as opposed to just the Mumford Mustangs, whose colors I bore at my graduation oh so many years ago.

As most of you reading this know I’m heading back to Detroit the entire month of September, a month I helped popularize in song!,  to conduct daily sing-alongs in order to record, “The D”,  the new theme song for the new Detroit I wrote with Andrae Alexander and to simultaneously film near round-the-clock in order to make multitudinous videos and an accompanying D documentary.

Raising money to do this, or for anything in my career, has been my least favorite part of being an artist. I hate dealing with money. That’s not why I make art/music/videos/web worlds/etc. It’s antithetical to this pure artists’ brain and being to ask for money. But as an artist who 90% of the time has funded themselves, and as a songwriter who has watched my own and others’ work get essentially cast into the public domain, operating under the digital assumption that songwriters no longer deserve compensation, unless there’s some gold or green in the bank ain’t no nothin gon happen no mo.

So I launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the money for “The D”. But I’ve been pretty shy about confronting the bane of my career – asking people for money so I can put some gas in The D tank and actually pull off what most artists would want 1,000,000+ clams to do – spend a month getting every single person in Detroit who wants to be on the record or perform in the video/film to do exactly that. And I’m prepared to do it with scotch tape and string, the usual way I’ve have to execute my career, walking the money gutted path of pennies, stripping down the grand vision that I see in my head to the thinner version my pocketbook can afford. The good news about this is that without those limitations I doubt I ever would have stumbled onto the KITSCH style I’m known for in all areas of my art –  other than my music, which remains on its Grammy high. And for this I thank those who have been either too cheap or ball-less or working at entertainment conglomerates to support me just to sit back and watch from behind the fence while I hit the home runs for those who HAVE pulled their checkbooks out.

All of this rambling to say, THIS WEEK ONLY, if you donate at least $15 to “The D” you’ll automatically be entered into the raffle to win one of an excessively limited edition of personally-autographed-by-me “Keep Your EYE on Detroit!” dashboard EYEballs in addition to all the other perks associated with the amount you contribute! Thank you, Archie McPhee, for the generous donation of these ocular wigglers.

This nifty EYEball shaker will not only liven up your car dashboard but will be a constant bouncing reminder that you’ve put your money where the underdog is and be a part of calling attention to a true American city that’s reinventing itself very much in the spirit that the United States itself was created. Forge into new territory and do it for yourself. Detroiters have no government to rely on, hell even the mayor quit, so people there are just rolling up their sleeves and executing ideas that they wouldn’t have the balls to even think of let alone build in other cities.

I’ve long said that the times that I’ve been perceived as hot in my career aren’t actually when I’m hot. It’s in the valleys when you think nothing is happening and no one’s paying attention to you because  they think you’re over when you do the work that shoots you to the top of the mountain in your so-called “hot” periods. That’s what it’s like in Detroit now, the Wild (mid)West, the city that slid first and watched all the others fall in their arrogance of “that couldn’t happen here”, and the first city to embrace, at least from the inside, that radical change isn’t re-building, it’s re-imagining and re-inventing.

You can feast your real EYEballs here where I’ve just posted gaggles of photos from my trip to Detroit in April. Then try to get your real plastic EYEball here by helping me pull off this insanely massive project I have in my head to do in Detroit this September. If one just keeps their EYEs pointed toward the ground and walks the same path one’s always walked you get the same life you’ve always had. But if one keeps their EYE on Detroit, you’ll see the path changing, leading to a very bright light in the future. Please be among those who help me shine that light! http://igg.me/at/WeSingTheD EYE will appreciate it forever!

YOU + (at least) $15 = Making Allee very happy.

Full deets on da D: http://igg.me/at/WeSingTheD

 

On November 8 and 9, 2012 I reprised BaDeYa, Baby!, my sold out one-woman-show-with-25-people-in-it at NoHoPAC in beautiful North Hollywood, CA. Just as the shows that preceded it on September 21 and 22nd, it was a salute to my very 1st hit, “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire, the first line of which is “Do you remember the 21st night of September?”.  All the hits, sing-alongs, dancers, games, prizes, Boogaloo Wonderland sandwiches from my hometown Detroit, not to mention the big ol’ greasy foot massages conspired to make these evenings no normal singer/songwriter fare! So enjoy the show and the next time I do this I hope you BaDeYa with me!

See all 450 photos here. November 8, 2012 show coming  SOON.  Until then. BaDeYa!

I wish I had time to write at length this morning because I can’t even tell you what a SPECTACULAR evening I had last night at my high school in Detroit, the greatest one of all, Mumford, about to be destroyed by the wrecking ball but still the most spirit-filled place in the city. Kids from the  choir, dance company and band performed some of my greatest hits while I told stories about how they were written. So many of my classmates showed up, some of whom I hadn’t seen since I graduated, some of my family, the ones who weren’t afraid to show some soul, leave the burbs and come into the real city, friends I’ve made on my last couple visits here and, of course, the wonderful and dedicated Mumford teachers, principal and former principal, and staff who helped so much to make this one of the favorite nights of my life.

I have to race out of the hotel seriously fast and check out a recording studio because I’m hell-bent and determined to collaborate with the entire city, at least any of those who want to be on a record, on a Detroit song that I’ve been working on back in LA with my upcoming live show bandleader, Andrae Alexander. Then race back to the hotel to change and get over to Cass Technical High School where the City Council will be presenting me with the Spirit of Detroit Award, and where I’ll also be attending another performance my musical, The Color Purple, all the while trying to edit the close to 600 photos taken last night, not to mention at least 10 hours of film from cameras we placed all over  the auditorium.

I hope to be blogging a lot about this next week once I’m back in LA so please check back then. Until then, I’m cheering for you, Mumford High! And Onward, Detroit!

All the hits you can stand to hear!!! And the last time in an architectural treasure.

https://www.alleewillis.com/detroit/mumford-last-call.html

You all know of my love for the physical structure of my classic Deco baby blue high school in Detroit, Mumford, as well as my dismay that the wrecking ball is hitting it mere months after the concert I’m doing/hosting there THIS Thursday night. One of the MANY reasons the school is near and dear to my heart is also because it was made famous in the film I won a GRAMMY for, Beverly Hills Cop, when Eddie Murphy wore a t-shirt bearing its name throughout the movie.

So it upsets me even more that features like this, all over the school, are about to be nothing more than a pile of crumbled limestone:

One place inside Mumford I loved like no other was the auditorium.  Here’s a photo of when I was there last year watching rehearsals for when I conducted the marching band playing a medley of my greatest hits. I was sitting in my favorite seat, Row A, first seat on the middle aisle.

Here was Row A, seat 1 yesterday as wrecking ball syndroome has already hit the school:

Here I am leaving the school:

At least there’s some small concilation for the crime of classic architecture demolition. Now if I could only get that clock!