Rest in Power, Allee Willis — Queen of Kitsch

Allee Willis with psychedelic Fluffernutters

It's never fun to report that someone in our tribe has passed. That's especially true when that person is also someone you know and love.

Allee Willis, Happy Mutant Extraordinaire, died just after 6 p.m. on December 24 of cardiac arrest. She was 72.

My friend Heather was in tears when she phoned me to tell me the news. It was 10:15 p.m. on Christmas Eve. She had just read about Allee's sudden and unexpected death in Variety. We were both shocked and deeply saddened. We pondered together on the call, "How is it possible that she's gone?"

I first met Allee back in the February of 2011. Friends of mine here in Alameda, Jessica and Mel, introduced me to her. "You HAVE to meet her!" they insisted. At that time, a TV show called Clean House was filming the decluttering and redecorating of their home. Their excess stuff was soon to be sold in a televised public sale. Since they are well known for their massive collection of pop culture kitsch and, being the Queen of Kitsch, Allee was compelled to drive up for the sale. And because their house was out of commission for the show's filming, I offered up mine to host a party in Allee's honor, not entirely sure what I was getting myself into or, honestly, grasping the full understanding of who she was. But I was game. I invited a group of local friends, all self-proclaimed kitsch lovers. Read the rest

LA Peeps: Don't miss Allee Willis' campy 'Love N' Latkes' show

Heads up! The reigning Queen of Kitsch, Allee Willis, is hosting three live Christmas/Hanukkah mashup "party performance" shows in Studio City later this week.

She writes:

It is with great pleasure that I announce my craziest in-the-best-sense-of-the-word nuts live show yet! For 3 big nights - Nov. 30-Dec. 2 - the party rages on at Allee Willis’ Love ’N Latkes Chanukah Christmas Shopping (and Singing and Comedy) Extravaganza Show! An ALL NEW "one-woman + Andrae” party performance featuring hit songs (I was just nominated for the Songwriters Hall of Fame so you know they’re great hits!), sing-alongs, the least appropriate stories a songwriter could tell, and, oh yeah, not just an auction of supreme flea finds but the greatest early holiday gift shopping in the whole wide Kitsch world!!

That’s right! For the first time ever, I’ll be opening the vaults and auctioning off treasures from my own world-renowned personal Kitsch, Pop, and Soul collection!

Tickets to all three shows (Thursday 11/30, Friday 12/1, and Saturday 12/2) are available now. Her shows always sell out so, if you're thinking of going, grab tickets now. Read the rest

More than 5,000 Detroiters sing Allee Willis' love song to the city

If there's one thing I know about Detroit-born multimedia artist Allee Willis, it's that she's unstoppable. And not knowing how to do something hasn't keep her from pursuing her dreams and becoming incredibly successful.

For example, by her own admission, she has "no idea how to play, read, or notate music." Yet, she's received multiple accolades for her music including two Grammy awards.

In fact, her big break came after co-writing the 1978 hit "September" by Earth, Wind, & Fire. She also co-wrote their "Boogie Wonderland."

But she didn't stop there. You know the Friends theme? She co-wrote that.

She also co-authored The Color Purple for Broadway. Earlier this year, she got her second Grammy for that.

In her multi-decade career, she's worked with musical artists such as The Pointer Sisters, the Pet Shop Boys, Bob Dylan, Patti LaBelle, James Brown, Herbie Hancock and many more.

Again, she has zero musical training.

Now she's written "The D," which she calls a "love song to Detroit." This is her biggest project to date.

She had never done anything like this before, no one has (or could).

The entire project includes not only a song but a music video, record, and party which all-in-all took nearly four years to complete. She pulled in her born-in-Detroit celebrity pals such as Lily Tomlin and Ray Parker Jr., as well as Motown names like Mary Wilson (Supremes) and Martha Reeves. She also invited thousands of everyday folks to participate and they did. "The D" features the vocals of over 5,000 Detroiters, which is the most people on a record together ever. Read the rest

Ba-de-ya, the 21st of September will always be special to songwriter Allee Willis

"Do you remember... the 21st night of September?"

This September 21st, and every September 21st, will never be forgotten by my dear friend-in-kitsch, Allee Willis.

If you aren't aware, Allee co-wrote the song "September" for Earth, Wind, & Fire. When it quickly climbed to the top of the charts at its release, it forever changed the course of her life for the better.

A few years ago, she shared a funny story about the song's "Ba-de-ya" lyrics with NPR:

The story of the song begins in 1978. Allee Willis was a struggling songwriter in LA — until the night she got a call from Maurice White, the leader of Earth, Wind & Fire. White offered her the chance of a lifetime: to co-write the band's next album. Willis arrived at the studio the next day hoping it wasn't some kind of cosmic joke.

"As I open the door, they had just written the intro to 'September.' And I just thought, 'Dear God, let this be what they want me to write!' Cause it was obviously the happiest-sounding song in the world," Willis says.

Using a progression composed by Earth, Wind & Fire guitarist Al McKay, White and Willis wrote the song over the course of a month, conjuring images of clear skies and dancing under the stars. Willis says she likes songs that tell stories, and that at a certain point, she feared the lyrics to "September" were starting to sound simplistic. One nonsense phrase bugged her in particular.

Read the rest