Obituaries

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis

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BroadwayWorld was saddened to report the passing of co-author of the musical adaptation of THE COLOR PURPLE, Allee Willis, who passed away earlier this week on December 24, 2019 at 72.

Flashback of some of Allee's Broadway memories from her illustrious career with this collection of vintage photos from our archives.

Willis' long-term partner Prudence Fenton shared news her death on Instagram. "Rest In Boogie Wonderland Nov 10,1947-December 24, 2019," he wrote next to a photo of Willis - referring to one of the Earth, Wind & Fire hits Willis had co-written.

Willis sold more than 50 million records, including "September," "Boogie Wonderland," "Neutron Dance" and "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" She has a Grammy for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack and an Emmy nomination for the "Friends" theme song. She's an award-winning artist, performer, multimediaist, writer and director.

Inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2018, Willis was a Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Webby award-winning and nominated songwriter, performer, visual artist, multi-mediaist, director, collector, social artist, and party thrower.

For the stage, Willis co-wrote (with Brenda Russell, Steve Bray, and Marsha Norman) the Oprah Winfrey-produced Broadway musical The Color Purple, which opened in December 2005 (in early 2006, Willis had seven of her hits featured in the Earth, Wind & Fire-themed musical Hot Feet, making her the first woman - and only fifth person ever - to have written music for two shows opening on Broadway in the same season). The Color Purple ran for two-and-a-half years, recouping in less than one year, a rare accomplishment for any musical.

As reported by the New York Times, Willis, Russell and Bray "worked in their idiosyncratic style, mixing high-tech tools - Ms. Willis' 17 networked Macs, which they used for research, and programs that allowed them to digitally record complete orchestrations - and very low-tech instruments like an old manual eggbeater or sandpaper." The process the Times mentions echoes Willis' own evaluation of her fundamental style across all the disciplines as "a blend of the highest tech and design and the lowest Kitsch."

After an original run on Broadway from 2005-2008, a revival of The Color Purple directed by famed theater director John Doyle returned December 10, 2015, opening to unanimously rave reviews and winning both the Tony for Best Musical Revival and the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. New York Magazine called it "one of the best musical revivals ever" while The New York Times praised it as "a miracle on Broadway...a glory to behold."

The Color Purple ran for fourteen months at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre and starred Jennifer Hudson, Danielle Brooks, and Cynthia Erivo, who won the Tony, Grammy, and Emmy awards for her portrayal of the lead character, Celie.

Photo Credit: Walter McBride

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis backstage at The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret' at The Cutting Room on November 9, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell and Allee Willis backstage at The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret' at The Cutting Room on November 9, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Brenda Russell and Allee Willis backstage at The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret' at The Cutting Room on November 9, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis backstage at The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret' at The Cutting Room on November 9, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performing at The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret' at The Cutting Room on November 9, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis and Marsha Norman performing at The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret' at The Cutting Room on November 9, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis ( Composer ) attends a sneak Peek of the New Broadway Musical THE COLOR PURPLE - A NEW MUSICAL at the 42ns Street Studios in New York City. The soul-stirring New Musical presented by Oprah Winfrey, from the Alice Walker classic Pulitzer Prize winning novel and Steven Speilberg Film, will play at the Broadway Theatre. October 12, 2005

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis atmosphere for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Andrae Alexander and Allee Willis perform 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Andrae Alexander and Allee Willis perform 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Andrae Alexander and Allee Willis perform 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Andrae Alexander and Allee Willis perform 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Andrae Alexander and Allee Willis perform 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Andrae Alexander and Allee Willis perform 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis performs 'Ba-de-ya Baby! Or: How I Learned to Love Theatre' for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis Stage atmosphere for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis Stage atmosphere for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis atmosphere for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis atmosphere for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis atmosphere for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis atmosphere for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis & Brenda Russell attending Opening Night performance reception for THE COLOR PURPLE starring Chaka Khan, BeBe Winans, LaKisha Jones & Zonya Love at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. January 9, 2008

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis attending the Broadway Opening Night Performance After Party for 'The Color Purple' at Copacabana on December 10, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis attending the Broadway Opening Night Performance After Party for 'The Color Purple' at Copacabana on December 10, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Stephen Bray, Marsha Norman and Allee Willis attending the Broadway Opening Night Performance After Party for 'The Color Purple' at Copacabana on December 10, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Jennifer Hudson, Cynthia Erivo, Allee Willis, Marsha Norman, Alice Walker, John Doyle with cast during the Broadway Opening Night Performance Curtain Call for 'The Color Purple' at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on December 10, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Jennifer Hudson, Cynthia Erivo, Allee Willis, Marsha Norman, John Doyle, Danielle Brooks with cast during the Broadway Opening Night Performance Curtain Call for 'The Color Purple' at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on December 10, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Jennifer Hudson, Cynthia Erivo, Allee Willis, Marsha Norman, Stephen Bray with cast during the Broadway Opening Night Performance Curtain Call for 'The Color Purple' at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on December 10, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Jennifer Hudson, Cynthia Erivo, Allee Willis, Marsha Norman, Alice Walker, John Doyle with cast during the Broadway Opening Night Performance Curtain Call for 'The Color Purple' at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on December 10, 2015 in New York City.

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis attending Opening Night performance reception for THE COLOR PURPLE starring Chaka Khan, BeBe Winans, LaKisha Jones & Zonya Love at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. January 9, 2008

Photo Coverage: Remembering Multi-Platinum Songwriter Allee Willis
Allee Willis Stage atmosphere for La Mama's 55th Anniversary Gala at La Mama on November 10, 2016 in New York City.



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