In the sixth episode of “A Drink With – Detroit” you’ll meet one of the most legendary and influential songwriters of the 70s, 80s and 90s, Allee Willis, who was recently inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Her work includes Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” and “Neutron Dance” by Pointer Sisters in addition to one of the most recognized TV theme songs to date, “I’ll Be There For You” from NBC’s “Friends.” In this episode Willis takes us on a roller coaster ride of career ups and downs which all led her to discover each passion of hers. Along with having a successful music career, Willis tells Hillary Sawchuk and Jessica McCall about how the opportunities in life come when you’re down, how Detroit is in another golden age of music and why Detroit is the most soulful city in the world. Willis also wrote and produced “The D,” a love song to the city of Detroit featuring 5,000 vocalists and musicians, more people in history that have ever been on a record before. Pour yourself a coffee and listen to Willis share her words of wisdom, incredible stories and witty jokes.

Whether you’re a native Detroiter, a transplant or a boomerang, you can’t deny that what’s happening in the city is history in the (re)making. From the work ethic to the entrepreneurial spirit, Detroiters are rolling up their sleeves and rebuilding the city with the same determination as Henry Ford and Berry Gordy before them. And in the end, those visionaries, similar to the ones you’ll meet this season, not only shaped Detroit, they shaped the world. Once the fastest growing city in the world; the place that created America’s middle class. Detroit is still a city that breeds innovation.

Just like the city of Detroit, our guests have stories of perseverance and creativity. Why should you care? You’ll find motivation and inspiration to apply to your own life from listening to the dreamers, future leaders and risk-takers who are making a direct impact on the community. We talk about lessons learned the hard way, what it took to reach success, business advice and what makes Detroit special.

This season we’re partnering with Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit whose mission is co-creating independence and dignity through the power of personal and workforce development. Goodwill Detroit works to ensure that every neighborhood of Detroit experiences the kind of renaissance that we’re seeing in downtown and Midtown. We welcome Jessica McCall, the vice president of marketing and external affairs at Goodwill Detroit, as our special co-host. We’re asking listeners to use “#WhatsGoodDetroit“ when you come across something inspiring, notable or just plain good in the city.

We’re recording in the Foundation Studio at Detroit Foundation Hotel. Our official podcast studio is located within the beautiful boutique hotel which is the former Detroit Fire Department Headquarters and Pontchartrain Wine Cellars.

Just a taste…

Is your career something you manifested from the start and did you always know that you were gonna make it?

I always prayed that I would make it. I still don’t think I’ve made it. I’m still not doing what it is I think I’m capable of doing but as far as the manifest thing, yeah, because I literally do not know how to do anything I do. None of it. I don’t know how to write music and I write the music and the lyrics… can’t play, can’t read music. And [the same with] art. I had sold over a thousand paintings before someone told me that you mix colors together to get other colors. I went to the same art store for like ten years and bitched that they didn’t have a certain color or certain shade of pink. This poor woman who for ten years had been saying, “No,” said, “Allee, you do know that you mix colors to get other colors,” and it was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” It changed the way I was doing everything because I had a trillion colors to work with.

“I have learned in my career, first of all… the stuff that goes wrong makes the funniest stories. Nobody wants to hear how you have the award and you put it on the mantle. They want to hear how it fell off the thing and hit you on the head, those are the stories. As soon as I realized I really should just be myself and not be afraid if things go wrong… that changed everything. So I try and bring all my party-throwing tricks to the stage and now I have a great time.”


You’ve said that truly being successful is figuring out who you are and living your life that way. At what age did that click and you felt like you could say that?

I had two separate epiphanies spread very far apart. One which was certainly before I felt successful but absolutely guided me through my life was when I was seven. We would go to Miami Beach every year, the Jewish Detroit migration. I was standing at a drinking fountain and there was a door that kind of led out to the pool and I’m drinking and the door opens and these two little really thin blonde girls came in, same age, maybe seven or eight. They were wearing two-piece bathing suits, which was the first time I saw one. I thought to myself, ‘I’m never going to look like that. They’re going to grow up to be like those blonde girls and that is never going to be me.” I made a decision at the drinking fountain that I could not let things like that pressure me and I have thought about that 12 trillion times since. So at seven, I knew not to compare yourself to other people because it’s not going to work. In terms of actually feeling successful, that was not until after “The Color Purple” where I [thought], “OK, there’s a piece of work that’s going to last that’s meaningful… more meaningful today than the years it took place.” It wasn’t like a hit record that’s going to be massive for three months— and today massive for three weeks. Very few songs can stand the test of time, so if I’m going to be attached to that, that’s always going to make me feel like a loser basically. But after “The Color Purple” I felt like there was something there.

Photography by Derrick Busman

Listen to the full conversation on Apple Podcasts or SimpleCast.

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