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Native Detroiter and songwriter Allee Willis talks about her career, hometown influences

<p>CT Visionary staff interviewed native Detroiter, songwriter  Allee Willis following the festivities of Detroit Homecoming, hosted at Cass Tech in September. </p>

CT Visionary staff interviewed native Detroiter, songwriter Allee Willis following the festivities of Detroit Homecoming, hosted at Cass Tech in September.

“So no one told you life would be this way."

"Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s D-O-A."

Many millennials may not know Allee Willis as a household name, however those catchy lyrics from theme song of the 90s hit television show "Friends," can still be heard on TV networks around the globe. 

Songwriter Allee Willis, is responsible for more than 1,000 songs and 60 million records being sold. She is a Grammy, Tony, Emmy, and Webbie award-winning producer, writer, composer, director and self-proclaimed party thrower.

Willis is best known for her songs written for Earth Wind & Fire, such as “September” and “Boogie Wonderland," and for the soundtrack from the 1980s comedy starring Eddie Murphy, "Beverly Hills Cop." 

In 2004, the Broadway play produced by Oprah Winfrey for Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Color Purple” debuted; featuring all of the lyrics and music written by the hand of native Detroiter Willis.

“I love Detroit, I’m a Mumford girl. I’ll always love Detroit and come back.” she said.

Willis' dedication to Detroit was apparent in 2013, when she came to Cass Tech to teach recently retired theater instructor Marilyn McCormick’s student cast for the Color Purple. Cass Tech was among the first high school’s in America to purchase and perform the original stage play for the Color Purple.

On Sept. 15, Willis revisited Cass for the Detroit Homecoming, an event that people who were born and raised in Detroit to come back and hopefully invest in the city.

Willis was born in 1947 before Motown was started.

“When I was a teenager, Motown was coming up and you can't even believe what it was like to live here then. I had never had any doubt I wanted do something with music,” said Willis.

When she got her driver’s license she drove down to Motown and sat on the lawn and listened to the music through the thin walls of the building.

“That is the only musical training I had ever had,” said Willis. “Bonnie Rait was the first one to discover me, but Patti Labelle was the first to say ‘you really have it, I’m going to do your songs’ and we went on to win a Grammy for the movie "Beverly Hills Cop," which put me on the map.”

Willis contribution to giving back to the city of Detroit is in the upcoming theme song she wrote called “The D.”

“Theme songs can really put an identity on something," she said. Which was why she thought it was important to write a theme song for her hometown Detroit.

“I got so sick, every time you say you are from Detroit people cringe. I just wanted everything positive about Detroit to be reflected in this song.”

Willis will be returning to Detroit in November, and when asked if she would be willing to work within the Sean Anderson studio of Infinite Possibilities to teach songwriting she said: “I'd love to come to Cass and work with the kids."

Recently, Justin Timberlake cut "September" with Earth Wind & Fire for the film "Trolls," which will be released on Nov. 4.


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