What do the pop songs, Boogie Wonderland (Earth, Wind & Fire, I'll Be There For You (Theme from Friends), Neutron Dance (The Pointer Sisters), Lead Me On (Maxine Nightingale) and the Broadway musical, The Color Purple, all have in common? Grammy winning songwriting machine, Allee Willis, composer of dozens of musical favorites spanning nearly 40 years of pop culture, and record sales of over 50 million.
And for two nights (Nov 8th and 9th), Willis will be performing her acclaimed multi-media, hit-packed spectacular, Badeya, Baby! in an exclusive engagement at The North Hollywood Performing Arts Center.
The term "Badeya" hails from the iconic chorus of September, the 1978 Willis penned smash by Earth, Wind & Fire ("Ba de ya -- say do you remember/Ba de ya -- dancing in September"). It's a song she cites as perhaps her most famous, and internationally beloved. Willis notes the first lyric "do you remember/the 21st day of September" has made September 21st a second birthday for her. "My Facebook page goes crazy that day -- you can't even believe it."
September by Earth, Wind & Fire, written by Allee Willis
Because Willis' actual birthday falls the day after her November performances, she promises these shows are going to be a party house.
If you asked me what I do best, I would say "throwing parties first, songwriting second. I'm all about parties.
Willis' talents in art, music, technology and film/video all play a part in Badeya, Baby! In fact everything in the show was handmade by Willis right down to the painting of the sets.
The ultimate do-it-yourself-er with "no interest in how the real people do it," Willis has always danced to her own drum, and it's reflected in everything she touches from her multicolored eyewear to her historic 1937 home, which houses a glorious collection of 20th Century kitsch, and was the original MGM Studios' party house.
NBC News segment of Allee Willis' fabulous home and kitsch collection:
And she's continually gone one step beyond with technology, whether as an activist addressing congress on artist's rights in cyberspace, or creating Willisville, the first social media network in 1992, documented in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Allee Willis is a one of a kind artist, and dare we say, a national treasure.
Willis directed/produced/wrote "Hey Jerrie," a fabulous tribute to 91-year-old drummer, Jerry Thill:
In keeping with her personal eclectic style, Willis' songwriting structure can also be quite unconventional.
To some, my songwriting seems very wrong. The way I change my chords in unusual ways, and the way I jump from chants to bouncy choruses, but I find ways to glue it all together. I don't follow a rule book.
Willis' rule-breaking, collage style of songwriting can be heard in her hits ranging from Shoppin' A - Z (Toni Basil), to Stability (Deborah Harry) to the chart topping What Have I Done To Deserve This? (Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield).
At first, Pet Shop Boys were very nervous about all the separate sections of that song, which to me seemed perfectly logically connected. When I presented them with the chant, "what have I -- what have I -- what have I done to deserve this?, they just gave me this blank stare. And I said, "are you kidding me, that's the hook of the song!" To this day if they saw me, they'd probably say, I still don't know what the chorus is.
What Have I Done To Deserve This? by Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield, written by Allee Willis
For anyone who has met the colorful and exuberant, Willis, they'd never guess she has suffered from stage fright all her life. Which is one reason why Badeya Baby has been such a long time coming, and in some ways a miracle it ever happened.
In second grade I played a tree in my school play and was terrified. After my debut solo album in 1974 came out, Epic Records put me on tour with a band, and during one show on the Ohio State campus, I was so miserable that in the middle of the set, I jumped off the stage, and walked away, and that was the end of my performing career.
Only in 2010 did Willis return to the stage to perform a medley of her greatest hits at her college alma mater at the University of Wisconsin.
I get on stage and the stadium holds 80,000 people with a 300 piece marching band, and for a second I freaked out, then I thought, "I am so sick of stage fright holding me back. So I just dealt with it head on, and had the greatest time.
Allee Willis conducts her high school alma mater, Detroit's Mumford High School Marching Band:
For more information on Allee Willis, check out her fun and expansive web site: www.alleewillis.com