Allee Willis is a one-woman creative think-tank. A multi-disciplinary artist and visionary thinker whose range of imagination and productivity knows no bounds, her success exuberantly defies categorization; ‘unique’ pales as a descriptor. Willis is a GRAMMY®-winning and Emmy- and Tony- nominated composer whose hit songs – including Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” and “Boogie Wonderland,” The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance,” Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield's "What Have I Done To Deserve This,” and The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You (Theme From Friends)” – have sold over 50 million records. In 2006, Willis’ songs were also featured in three of the top grossing films of the year, Happy Feet, Night At The Museum and Babel. Her first musical, the Oprah Winfrey-produced The Color Purple, written with Brenda Russell, Stephan Bray and Marsha Norman, opened on Broadway in December ’05 and ran for two and a half years, recouping in less than a year, a rare accomplishment for any musical. A national tour launched in Chicago in spring ’07, and continues through 2010. Willis’ newest music video, "Hey Jerrie", featuring her Jerrie Thill, a 91 year old female drummer/singer on an oxygen tank, exploded on YouTube and became the 79th most viewed video in the world on its first day of release. Willis also scored a myspace hit with “Does She Love Me?” by Stallionaires, theme to VH-1’s "Real Chance Of Love" , with over 1.5 million plays without a record company, video or promotion.myspace plays in a month without any record company involvement.
Willis is also a prolific artist who has sold over 1500 pieces of art, including paintings, sculptures, motorized work and furniture. In tandem with her fearless alter-ego Bubbles the artist, Willis has long braved new worlds of creative endeavor integrating music, art, video, multi-media technology and lifestyle, most recently via the phenomenon known as “Allee Willis Presents Bubbles &…”, a series of collaborations which Willis co-composes, sings, plays, produces, draws, animates, directs and stars in. The first release, “Allee Willis Presents Bubbles & Cheesecake "It’s A Woman Thang", exploded on YouTube with close to 1,000,000 views, was selected as Official Honoree in The 2008 Webby Awards and won three 2008 W3 Awards. Her second video, “Allee Willis Presents Bubbles & Cheesecake "Editing Is Cool", was also ‘featured’ on YouTube and won three 2008 W3 Awards. The third video, “Allee Willis Presents Bubbles & Cheesecake "I Confess" was just released.
Willis is also a seminal cyber-pioneer who conceptualized Internet realms and was an outspoken advocate for them back when “new” media was an unknown to most. From 1990 until 1997, she and partner Prudence Fenton dove headlong into developing willisville.com, the first social networking portal and radically new approach to interactive content, employing narrative frameworks to navigate the site intuitively, merging multiple technologies and platforms into one story-driven environment. In 1994, willisville’s CEO was seminal digital realm entrepreneur Mark Cuban. Early on, Fortune Magazine cited it as one of the emerging Internet’s most exciting companies, and its progress was also tracked by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
She went on to consult for Intel, Microsoft, AOL and Disney, and created virtual worlds for a variety of other entertainment and technology companies. In 1997, representing 3,000,000 BMI songwriters, she addressed the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property regarding artist rights in cyberspace. Regularly called upon to speak on the nascent Internet, she lectured on interactive journalism at Harvard University in ’96. Willis’ heralded cyber-artistry also devised the acclaimed lilytomlin.com in collaboration with Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner in 1999. It’s based on Tomlin’s life, characters and Tony-winning play The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe, in which the character Kate is based on Willis. Ms. Willis designed the site in tandem with Bubbles the artist, who she first discovered in 1999 – within months of Bubbles’ first painting, it was rumored in The New York Times that Willis actually was Bubbles the artist.
Allee Willis is also an impresario of inspired parties and events-as-performance art, many of which take place at her architecturally historic L.A. home, a William Kesling-designed Streamline Moderne gem often called “the house of atomic kitsch” and known as “Willis Wonderland.” It’s filled with Willis’ various collections, which represent one of the world’s largest assemblages of kitsch – Willis was actually in the dictionary.com definition of kitsch. Beyond all that, she’s an internationally shown visual artist whose paintings, ceramics, motorized sculptures and furniture are widely collected. Her first solo gallery exhibition, 1985’s Wear The Right Clothes Even At Home, featured kinetic sculptures, many named after her hits, including “Neutron Dance” and “Boogie Wonderland". Her expansive vision further extends to art direction, set design, and animation. In a feature on Willis, People Magazine once called this artistic overdrive, “a multi-threat creativity that itself seems like a Godzilla out to conquer Lalaland.”
Looking ahead, Willis’ intent is to undertake projects that integrate the many mediums in which she delves to create veritable symphonies of innovative interactivity. Via her collaborations with Bubbles you could say she’s accelerated way beyond overdrive and achieved lift-off. Bubbles & Cheesecake, a six song collaboration with longtime collaborator singer-songwriter Holly Palmer aka Cheesecake, former vocalist with the Gnarls Barkley live band who’s also worked with David Bowie and Dr. Dre, is the first in a series of multi-media collaborations with artists in various fields. The “Bubbles & …” series is centered around the hyperactive website, alleewillis.com, an integrated music, art, multi-media technology, shopping and lifestyle experience, a kitschy and soulful domain that grew out of willisville as well as other recent projects Willis was developing that explored the dynamics of the creative process and the universal question, “Has it got soul?”
Willis’ foray into theater began in 2001 when she started consulting on musical direction and then composing the ultimately Tony-nominated music and lyrics for the show (the soundtrack album was also GRAMMY nominated). As reported by the New York Times, Willis, Russell and Bray “worked in their idiosyncratic style, mixing high-tech tools - Ms. Willis’ 17 networked Macs, which they used for research, and programs that allowed them to digitally record complete orchestrations - and very low-tech instruments like an old manual eggbeater or sandpaper.” The process the Times mentions echoes Willis’ own evaluation of her fundamental style – across all the disciplines – as, “a blend of the highest tech and design and the lowest kitsch.”
In 2006, Willis also contributed seven of her classic hits for Earth, Wind & Fire to the EWF-themed “jukebox” musical Hot Feet, which helped her make Broadway history as the first woman – and only fifth person ever – to have written music for two shows opening on the Great White Way in the same season. It’s a distinction placing her in an elite group including Georges Gershwin and Cohan, Irving Berlin and Marvin Hamlisch.
Tracing back to her roots, Willis was raised in Detroit where the music of Motown got in her blood. She earned a degree in Journalism at the University of Wisconsin before moving to New York in 1969. She landed a copywriting job at Columbia and Epic Records, and turned to music and songwriting herself. Her first ten songs were released in 1974 on Epic Records as Childstar. Bonnie Raitt, a fan of the album, gave Willis her first cover that year as she was working as a hat-check girl at the fabled Manhattan nightspots Catch A Rising Star and Reno Sweeney’s. Willis then moved to Los Angeles, where she landed a publishing deal at A&M in 1977 after being turned down by just about every other publisher in town. In 1978, she sold ten million records, and has since collaborated with Bob Dylan, James Brown, Herbie Hancock and countless other music luminaries. A GRAMMY® winner for soundtrack music for 1985’s Beverly Hills Cop (a #1 album), Willis is one of contemporary music’s most prolific songwriters – and, one with a keen eye for talent…in 1987, Willis authored a column for Details Magazine, “Some Like It Smog,” in which she introduced her musical discovery the Del Rubio Triplets, mini-skirted octogenarians who went on to tour the world and appear on over 20 network television programs.
It was at the same time that her music was regularly climbing the charts that Willis became a sensation for the performance art events she masterminded at Willis Wonderland which, in the late 1930’s, was a major film studio’s official party headquarters. Her thematic soirees draw A-list celebrities, art world stars, pop culture icons and notables the world over who would jet in to attend. Always press magnets, the parties were early vehicles through which Ms. Willis freely expressed all her multi-media talents to serve one fabulous end. Among the most memorable are “The Night of the Living Negligee, 1-3,” a series of all-girl pajama parties and the “Borscht Belt Birthday Party,” a wry-on-rye affair commemorating Willis being named, “one of the most dangerous subversives living in the U.S.” by Russian newspaper Pravda because they mistranslated her hit song “Neutron Dance” as a nuclear-themed “Neutron Bomb".
In addition to causing Communist Russia-era angst, that song was a #6 Billboard smash for The Pointer Sisters. ““Neutron Dance” was part of the Grammy®-winning Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack as was “Stir It Up”, one of the many songs she’s penned for Patti LaBelle over the years. Willis’ top hits also include: Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” (featured in Babel and Night At The Museum) and “Boogie Wonderland” (a set piece in the animated smash Happy Feet), Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield’s “What Have I Done To Deserve This” and Maxine Nightingale’s “Lead Me On.” The Cold War ended, and Willis later went on to also pen the Emmy-nominated #1 hit and top-selling television theme “I’ll Be There For You” from Friends.
No matter how out-sized her musical success, or landmark accomplishments in any realm, Willis sees it as one piece of a far broader platform. In every aspect of Willis’ creative process, the incorporation of new media and the interactive realm has been a constant since the beginning of the ’90s. In 1991, a positively Paleolithic age in terms of mainstream computer use, her home was one of the first fully-wired, networked locations in Los Angeles. Today, it is one of the first all fiber houses.With everything converging via both Allee and Bubbles’ efforts, Willis’ signature vision and creative intelligence have entered a new phase. As journalist Anne Stockwell quipped in a recent profile, “To understand where Willis is going, you have to open your mind to a degree of inventiveness that’s frankly a little scary.” And spectacularly fun.