- Dennis McClain
- Allee Willis.
Allee Willis, the Detroit native and award-winning songwriter who penned hits like Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" and the Friends theme song, died Tuesday at her Los Angeles home. She was 72. According to Variety, the cause of death was cardiac arrest.
Willis' other credits include The Color Purple Broadway score, the Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance," the Pet Shop Boys' and Dusty Springfield's "What Have I Done to Deserve This?," Patti LaBelle's "Lead Me On," and "You're the Best" (the theme from The Karate Kid), among many others.
But "September" has remained arguably her biggest hit. Earlier this year, Willis returned to Detroit to perform an intimate gig at Willis Show Bar on the 21st night of September to celebrate the song — a reference to its famous opening line.
As Willis told Metro Times, the "September" collaboration happened after she met Verdine White, bassist and brother of EW&F leader Maurice White, while working on another project. He told her he'd make an introduction to the group which Willis has said is her favorite.
"Out of the blue one night, the phone rang," she said. "I remember sitting there when I hung up saying, 'This shit can't be happening.' Maurice told me to come to the studio the next day. It was really close to my house, so the whole thing was so convenient and it just felt completely right."
The groovy song was an instant ear-worm, becoming a wedding playlist staple and also a pop culture phenomenon in its own right. In recent years, it re-enters the charts every September due to the increase of streams on digital services like Spotify. And this year the song was inducted into the Library of Congress Registry of historically and culturally significant recordings.
"It has become a permanent part of American history," Willis told us. "It is insane."
Regarding the Friends theme, Willis wrote the original 60-second on assignment, which was later expanded into a full song by the Rembrandts. “It was the last thing I ever thought would be a hit, the whitest song I ever wrote,” Willis, who was Jewish, told Songfacts.
In recent months, Willis had reportedly been working with a fellow Detroit native, rapper Big Sean, at her home, a "legendarily kitschy" 1937 Streamline Moderne house, according to Variety. It was also the setting for the magazine's recent cover shoot with Billie Eilish, the off-kilter teenage pop star who shares Willis' sense of style when it comes to bold, baggy outfits.
Willis is survived by a brother and sister, but also, of course, her hits.
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