BWW Interview: Songwriter Allee Willis brings her Crazy, Fun Show ALLEE WILLIS LOVES DETROIT! to the City Theatre In Detroit
Allee Willis loves Detroit. So much so that the Detroit native named her one-woman show, Allee Willis LOVES DETROIT! And fans are invited to party and sing-along with her at 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat., May 18-19 at Detroit's City Theatre. The Grammy, Tony, Emmy and Webby award-winning-and-nominated songstress--writer of many mega-hits including Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" and "Boogie Wonderland;" "Neutron Dance," the theme from TV's "Friends" and Broadway's Oprah-produced musical The Color Purple has been defending "The D" from her kitschy Pepto-Bismol-pink house in North Hollywood, Calif. for over 40 years.
"I love Detroit. It's my favorite city in the world," says Willis, who took home the Distinguished Achievement Award at the Detroit Music Awards on May 4 and will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame next month. "This has been a wild year of awards for me, and I am truly ecstatic that this has all happened. It's the cherry on my soul sundae."
Five years ago, Willis set out to honor her beloved hometown by creating Detroit's "official, unofficial theme song." She wrote, arranged and produced "The D" with Andrae Alexander and got 5,000 Detroiters- "the greatest number of lead vocalists ever assembled on one recording"-to sing the song. During that time, Willis flew back and forth over 30 times from L.A. to Detroit to record and film 70 sing-a-longs in Detroit locations including the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) where Willis threw the mother of all parties on Sept. 28 for the song and mini-documentary unveil.
Now, she's promising that Allee Willis LOVES DETROIT! will be an "unforgettable, party performance show that's going to be one of the funniest, wildest and most soulful nights in town." Here's what she has to say about all-things Allee:
BroadwayWorld Detroit (BWW): You're being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 14 in NYC, but many people may not realize that you can't read music. So how do you do it?
Allee Willis: I learned music by sitting out on the lawn in front of Motown and hearing the music come through the walls. I can't read or play music to this day, but I hear everything in my head. I write both music and lyrics and have a much freer style than a trained musician. A trained musician would probably say too free!
BWW: You're 70-years-old, where do you get all your energy?
Allee Willis: I'm still going like I'm 21, probably because I haven't yet been able to do what I truly want to do, which is to combine everything I do into one creative expression as opposed to write a song for this one, do a set for that one, paint a painting over here, direct a video over there, do a website for that one, throw a party. That's what my performances are all about - doing everything I do in one place and approaching it as a party host, so the audience is completely comfortable and feels like they're in my living room in a total visual and sonic environment that I create.
BWW: So with all that creativity and in all your "spare time," you're back in the D to perform your spectacular one-woman Allee Willis LOVES DETROIT! show Friday and Saturday May 18-19 at the City Theatre in Detroit. What can fans expect?
Allee Willis: They can expect what it feels like at any of my parties. I totally decorate every inch of the set with my art and kitsch. I do all my songs as sing-alongs as everyone knows them. I tell really funny stories about how my hits were written because I don't write like a normal songwriter. I throw candy out to the audience, and I auction off treasures from my pop culture collection-- one of the largest in the world. It's a very unique show, and a really funny one, stuffed with hit songs. Use the code MOTOWN and get tickets for only $20. I Swear to God it's worth it! It ain't no normal songwriter's show, I can guarantee you that!
BWW: What are some of the items you'll have up for auction?
Allee Willis: Some of the things I'm auctioning at the show include a Michael Jackson drink Kooler, a James Brown singing doll, a disco lunchbox and thermos, a Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy rug; a decanter of Avon Thunderbird cologne and so much more.
BWW: Is this the first time you're doing your one-woman show, or where else have you done it?
Allee Willis: I do it a few times a year in L.A. where I live. I've got a great fan base built up there. I've only done it in Detroit once before and then, of course, the gigantic party performance I threw at the DIA in September for my song, "The D "when 3,000 people came.
BWW: Give us an update on "The D" song and the paper plates portraits that you had all the attendees create at the Sept. 28 unveil at the DIA.
Allee Willis: These shows that I'm doing at the City Theatre this weekend are an extension of "The D "and the paper- plate portrait wall. It was the biggest real-time installation done at a major art museum ever. A lot of the paper plate portraits will be visible at my shows Friday and Saturday, and I'll be showing "The D" to my audiences.
BWW: BroadwayWorld fans are dying for an update on The Color Purple.
Allee Willis: I've been back to Detroit to see The Color Purple four times. But this last version that was here on my birthday in 2017 is the revival version that won both the Tony and the Grammy last year. It was fantastic seeing the musical here and having all my Detroit friends meet the cast and then everyone came over to my birthday party and sang to me all night. I went to South Africa right after that where The Color Purple became the first all-black show to be performed by an all-African cast. It was thrilling. And Oprah is bringing it back to Johannesburg in August, so it was a huge success there. I'm very excited because it comes to Los Angeles where I live next week. I always have an amazing time when it's in L.A. because I meet all my friends there every night.
BWW: Recently, Taylor Swift re-recorded your song "September" that you originally wrote for Earth, Wind & Fire. What did you think about Swift's rendition and did you talk to her after she released it, or did she contact you before?
Allee Willis: You have to come to my show to hear the Taylor Swift story. I do a bit on it. Her take on it is quite different from the Earth, Wind & Fire version, to say the least, and social media was very opinionated about it. So you'll hear my really good story and then the audience will sing the Earth, Wind and Fire version.
BWW: Tonight, Thursday, May 17, you're the guest of honor for a fundraiser for the Motown Museum at the newly reopened Willis Show Bar in the Cass Corridor in Detroit. (cover is $5.00).
Allee Willis: I would've never been a songwriter had I not grown up in Detroit and worshipped Motown. So I am honored that the Motown Museum is throwing me this party tonight. I'll only be there right at the beginning, though, because I have to go home and get sleep for my big shows the next two nights. But I live for Motown still to this day and plan to be very involved in all their plans going forward.
Allee Willis LOVES DETROIT! at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 18-19, City Theatre (inside the Hockeytown Cafe), 2301 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 471-3464. Use the code MOTOWN and get tickets for only $20. 313presents.com.