On June 14, at a ceremony in New York, Detroit-native Allee Willis, 70, was inducted into the prestigious Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. Eight songwriters were inducted this year, with Willis being the only woman. Willis, a multimedia artist, is best known for writing such mega-hits as “I’ll Be There for You” (the theme from Friends), “Neutron Dance” (a Pointer Sisters hit); “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” (hit for the Pet Shop Boys); and “September” (Earth, Wind & Fire hit). Actor and singer Brandon Victor Dixon honored Willis by performing “Neutron” and “September” at the ceremony.
The Boston Herald reports that Willis won over the crowd by telling real-life stories, like how her father warned her “to stay away from black culture” and how the sex life of a frisky female friend was an inspiration for many of her songs. Willis responded to the “elephant in the room” — that she was the only female inductee — this way: “I really started thinking about how, at the time, mentally painful it was that the girls were not getting the chances the boys were. So, I just want to say, ‘We’re here. We’ve always been here. And we’re no longer the little wilting flowers that we were when it comes to equality.’ So, wipe off the seats because here we come.”
Country songwriter Steve Dorff, 69, was in tears as he listened to an induction speech delivered by his son, actor Stephen Dorff, 44. The elder Dorff’s hits include “Every Which Way but Loose” (Eddie Rabbitt) and “Through the Years” (Kenny Rogers).
Neil Diamond, 77, received the Hall’s Johnny Mercer Award. It is given to a songwriter who already has been inducted into the Hall (Diamond was inducted in 1984), for “a history of outstanding creative work.” Diamond closed out the ceremony by performing a rousing version of his mega-hit “Sweet Caroline.”
It’s sad that Willis’ father warned her away from “black culture.” However, that’s certainly not the whole story. African American rap superstar Jay-Z recently told David Letterman that his sixth-grade teacher, Renee Rosenblum-Lowden, now 77, was a great inspiration to him. Likewise, the late rapper Tupac Shakur took poetry classes led by Leila Steinberg, now 56. She became his most important early mentor and his first manager. Finally, the great Louis Armstrong became a fervent, lifelong “philo-Semite” after a Jewish New Orleans family, the Karnofskys, hired him to do odd jobs and gave him a salary advance to buy his first trombone.
AT THE MOVIES
Opening on June 29 is the film Leave No Trace. Ben Foster, 37, stars as Will, the father of a teenage girl. For years, they live happily “off the grid” in a huge Oregon park. A mistake results in them being discovered and being placed in urban shelters by social services. They hate their new surroundings and attempt to return, together, to the wilderness. Directed by Debra Granik, 55 (Winter’s Bone).