Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Willis, Allee

Alta Sherral Willis – known to almost everyone as Allee – was born and raised in Detroit, graduated from Mumford High School in 1965, and became an artistic dynamo best known for her songwriting. She started her career in New York creating such hits as “September” for Earth Wind and Fire, “Neutron Dance” for the Pointer Sisters, “You’re the Best” for the movie Karate Kid, and co-wrote the musical version of The Color Purple. Perhaps her most recognizable song, “I’ll Be There For You,” was the theme for the 1990s television hit Friends

Willis was much more than a songwriter, blending tunes, graphic arts, video, “motorized sculptures,” technologies and lifestyle kitsch into live stage, gallery, or web-based sensory extravaganzas. The over-the-top parties held at her Los Angeles home were legendary events that Willis curated as interactive performance pieces. 

Willis had fun letting the world know about her hometown, crediting the soulful sounds of Detroit for giving her music its quirky funk. Between 2013 and 2015 she visited Detroit to record a new song, “The D,” a crowd-sourced music video featured over 5,000 people singing along at the Detroit Historical Museum and other locations. 

Accolades included Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Webby awards, as well as a Distinguished Achievement Award at the 2018 Detroit Music Awards. In 2019, Willis was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, though she never learned to read music or play an instrument. Her songs have sold an estimated 60 million records. Ms. Willis died unexpectedly on December 24, 2019. 



"Dancin' in 'September' to the D” poster, 2013

Allee Willis LP "Childstar," 1974

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