Songwriter Allee Willis
embraces her hometown with
a catchy tune we all can sing.
Allee Willis recording
parts of "The D" song
with Mary Wilson, a
founding member of the
Supremes, in Willis' home
studio in Los Angeles
Esther Allweiss Ingber I Contributing Writer
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
invited to recording sessions have an asso-
ciation with that location.
Enter Willis' "We Sing the D" project. It
begins with "The D," an ode to Detroit that
she wrote with frequent collaborator Andrae
Alexander, the project's musical director.
Noting the "incredibly cool and innova-
tive things ... happening here Willis said
she believes "it's the passion of the people
themselves that will turn around the city.
That's why I wanted to record this record
with the people of Detroit. I know the power
of music. If you have a song that everyone
on the planet knows, it's a great way to get a
message across and feel the passion"
Willis said she wanted to write a "song to
make people feel instantly happy" She's hop-
ing that "The D" becomes Detroit's "official
unofficial theme song" The project itself is
being promoted as a "record, video and doc-
umentary of a joyous, citywide singalong
tribute to the Motor City and its people"
The song features lush instrumentation.
It's bouncy with a sprinkling of the Motown
R&B sound so characteristic of Willis' style.
Never able to read music, she said her "only
music education was worshiping Motown"
"The project really is a pretty unbeliev-
able story because I've been working on
it for a year and a half solid" Willis said.
Before heading to Detroit for 20 days in
September, some of Willis' celebrity friends
recorded verses of "The D" in her home-
based studio. Those lending their voices
included Mary Wilson, Martha Reeves,
Freda Payne, Leon Ware, Ray Parker Jr.,
Lamont Dozier and fellow Detroiter Lily
On Sept 10, Willis and a professional
crew from L.A. and New York — "who
share a deep love of and belief in Detroit,"
she noted — joined local crew members,
interns and volunteers for the songwriter's
great adventure. They'll be in town through
the month filming people singing the
catchy, easily learned chorus of "The D." The
complete song is at www.alleewillis.com/
Other than the public event on Sept. 22 at
the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, the people
September 26 • 2013
Detroit On Location
Willis said the more than 40 Detroit-based
sites on the filming schedule include "iconic
outdoor locations ... museums, restaurants,
schools, churches, synagogues, laundromats,
car washes, radio stations, pawn shops, hat
shops, hotels, recording studios, yoga stu-
dios, weave salons — and we're even filming
on a helicopter pad at Henry Ford Hospital,
using a helicopter camera 100 feet up in the
The crew is visiting places like Ebenezer
Baptist Church, Detroit Yacht Club, Temple
Israel, Fisher Theatre and American Jewelry
and Loan, where a Willis favorite program,
TruTV cable's Hardcore Pawn, is filmed
with Les Gold and family. The crew had
lunch and filmed at Chef Greg's Soul in the
Wall, home of the legendary "Boogaloo
Wonderland" sandwich, a takeoff on Willis'
A few passes of the entire song occur at
some locations while certain lines or shout-
outs are captured at others. Participants sign
a release form giving permission for possible
inclusion in a music video and/or the fea-
ture-length "making of" documentary, more
components of "The D" project. Danny
Franzese, seen in the film Mean Girls, is
directing the documentary.
The financial groundwork for the project
included raising $20,000 in crowdsourcing
donations through Indiegogo.com . Willis
also attended two fundraisers this summer
at The Whitney in Detroit and Vinsetta
Garage in Royal Oak. The search for proj-
ect sponsors continues, she said. However,
the Heidelberg Project and Mosaic Youth
Theatre, two local organizations, will receive
all proceeds from the sale of "The D" mer-
The crew visited two schools Willis attended
while living on Sorrento Street with her
parents, Rose and Nate. The youngest of
three, Willis' brother is Kent (Barbara) of
Farmington Hills and her sister Marlen (the
Allee Willis with students
at Detroit's Schulze
Academy, once her
former grade school,
after recording the
students singing the
chorus of "The D"
late Murray) Frost of Omaha, Neb. Willis
also has five nieces and nephews.
"My niece and nephew, Lara and Paul
Witherspoon, are still here as well as my
aunt, Ann Benderoff," Willis said.
The Willis family attended Congregation
Beth Abraham in Detroit before Rose died,
and later Adat Shalom Synagogue after
Nate, now deceased, moved the family to
"My mom's father was an Orthodox rabbi
named Solomon Shulman in Detroit," said
Willis. Although she rebelled and dropped
out of Hebrew school, Willis said she "feels
Jewish" understands key things in Yiddish
and collects Jewish memorabilia.
Seventy-five students brought their
enthusiasm to the singalong at Willis' former
elementary school, now Schulze Academy
for Technology and the Arts. Alumni from
Willis' Class of 1965 at Mumford High
School, and some neighboring years, showed
up in force, too, on their night to sing.
The singers at new Mumford included
Lynn Schavrien Pell of New York and local
residents Martha Schlesinger, Elaine Weiss
Markowitz, Daryle Roth, Beverley Harelik
Wolgin, Annette Gantz Rosen, Jacqueline
Kaplan, Barbara Ruznick Millman, Marilyn
Markovitz Lantor, Joanne Parr Kraft, Sherry
Erman Stewart, Carole Meyers Sweetwine,
Shelley Chicorel Tauber, Jacqueline Kaplan,
Gail Warren DeRoven, Lois Mentzel
Freeman and the two guys: Ricky Stoller and
Singing classmate Jackie Kallen, famous
as the first female boxing manager, found
a kindred spirit in Willis when they were
introduced in L.A.
While the group knew Willis to varying
degrees, even some friends didn't recognize
her talent in high school. One woman said
she remembers Willis for wearing "unusual
clothes in a fun way, while the rest of us were
Barbara Fealk Edelman of West
Bloomfield said her father, Herbert, and
Willis' dad, brothers-in-law, owned a scrap-
yard business, Eastern Iron & Metal Co., on
Mount Elliott in Detroit.
Early on, their family sensed the creative
potential in Cousin Alta (Allee's birth name).
At the scrapyard, "she'd always be picking
out things," said Edelman. "Where I saw
junk, she saw art"
Willis said Detroit inspired everything she
does today — from art to music to throwing
large, musical parties. An early adopter of
the Internet, Willis' award-winning website
is colorful, kitschy and comprehensive: the
perfect reflection of her personality.
"The D" will feature "not just the largest
number of people ever on a record" — Willis
anticipates tens of thousands — "but also
the largest number of people [credited] as
the original artist on a record"
They'll all be showing their Motor City
spirit, however they can, she said.
"I'm doing this because, you know, I love
Detroit" Willis said.
'The D' at Temple Israel
The community may sing along
with Allee Willis at 10 a.m.
Monday, Sept. 30, at Temple
Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road
in West Bloomfield.