Allee Willis debuts her record-breaking video at a party at the DIA
Do you remember, the 28th night of September? Love was changing the mind of defenders. While chasing the clouds away.
Multimedia artist Allee Willis — writer of many hits including Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” “Boogie Wonderland” and the theme from “Friends” — has been defending “The D” from her kitschy Pepto-Bismol-pink house in North Hollywood, Calif., for more than 40 years.
“I love Detroit. It’s my favorite city in the world,” says the 1965 Mumford
And she set out to prove just that five years ago when she decided to write a song honoring her beloved hometown and calling it Detroit’s “official, unofficial theme song.”
“I was so tired of people saying bad things about Detroit,” says Willis, a Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Webby award-winner and nominee who does not know how to read, play or notate music.
So, 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.
Over the past five years, Willis flew back and forth 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 a party open to all on Sept. 28 for the song and mini-documentary unveiling.
“We did a sing-a-long at Temple Israel,” says Willis, who started a GoFundMe campaign in 2013 to help self-finance the mammoth project. “But aside from Temple Israel, I was adamant that every sing-a-long had to be in Detroit proper.”
Some of her fellow Jewish friends from Mumford who are singing on the record include bestie Sherry (Erman) Stewart, Joanne (Parr) Kraft, Karen and David Disner, Marsha (Diem) Fischer and Marcy Feldman.
“The film is an amazing technological birthday card to Detroit,” said Feldman who’s featured twice on the recording — at the Heidelberg Project and at Pasteur Elementary School where she is president of the alumni foundation.
Willis spent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with Stewart before flying home to L.A. on Sunday. She will return to Detroit for a week when the Tony Award-winning musical, The Color Purple, which Willis co-wrote and won a Grammy Award for the Best Musical Theater Album, comes to the Fisher Theatre Nov. 7-12. One of the performances will be a fundraiser for Mosaic Youth Theatre.
Story and photos by Julie Yolles
Watch “The D” on YouTube and buy it on iTunes.