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!

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!

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.

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

This is an update to all those who have donated or signed up to participate in “The D”, my multimedia song-video-documentary extravaganza I’m recording and filming via a series of sing-alongs in Detroit from 9/10 – 10/1, 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, synagogues, 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. (https://www.alleewillis.com/WeSingTheD/)

To DONATE go here: http://www.gofundme.com/3btivk

To learn the actual song go here. (https://www.alleewillis.com/WeSingTheD/sing-or-play-the-d.php)

For more of Allee’s Detroit go here. (https://www.alleewillis.com/detroit/)

 

 

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As I sit here with LESS THAN FOUR DAYS LEFT for this fundraising campaign for “The D”,  I can’t help but think about all the amazing things that have come out of it so far and how great it’s going to be when I go back to Detroit to do my passion project of recording the official unofficial theme song of the city with thousands of Detroiters throughout the month of  “September”.
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The outpouring of love and support from hundreds of you so far lets me know how many of my friends have my back.
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But I’d have more confidence I could pull this off with ADDITIONAL DONATIONS. I’ve worked on this for over a year and a half already, making decisions like holding off on performing so the money could stream to “The D”. But it’s obvious I cant pull off something this ambitious alone. And it’s not  the kind of project I’d want to pull off alone. It’s all about the power of community and friendships and how that ignites spirit.
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When left to my own devices my songs have always been about if your life isn’t working get yourself up and MAKE A CHANGE. “I’m just burning doing the Neutron Dance” means if the world explodes tomorrow I will at least have lived the life I want to live.”
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I relate to Detroit not just because it’s my hometown but because my entire career has been a series of starting overs, exactly what Detroit is faced with now. So I know the only way up is to not be afraid of going there and putting your imagination in the driver’s seat.  From there on it’s sheer nerve and chutzpah and that’s what’s very much alive and well in Detroit.  And why it’s so uplifting to go there. And why I know I will get the most spirited performance on earth out of these Motown babies no matter how I pull it off.
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Ultimately, Detroit will not only have a theme song, and videos and documentary commemorating it, but this is a way for all profits in perpituity to go to two Detroit art gems, The Heidelberg Project and Mosaic Youth Theater.
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Thanks to places in Detroit that have opened their doors to me like The Whitney – an elegant restaurant in the oldest house in Detroit on the first paved road in the world – and Vinsetta Garage –  a killer food joint in what was the baddest hot rod garage in the city of cars –  both of whom are hosting fundraisers  for “The D” when I go back to Detroit in a couple of weeks.
This kind of generosity abounds in Detroit. And that generosity and spirit pushes me to ask you once again to please support me and “The D”. Even $5 is a vote of confidence that keeps me going (not that hundreds don’t help!).
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And, of course, please help spread the word and share “The D” on Facebook , Twitter and the like.
And please remember to DONATE HEREhttp://igg.me/at/WeSingTheD
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To follow my Detroit adventures:
Twitter @WeSingTheD, @AlleeWillis
DONATE ON INDIEGOGO: http://igg.me/at/WeSingTheD
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Love,
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