What are the odds of losing two of the most influential songwriters of all time on the same day?  That’s what happened yesterday. First, Jerry Lieber, whose “Hound Dog” got the Elvis-not-to-mention-Rock-‘n-Roll train rolling, and then Nick Ashford, a songwriter whose influence on me was immeasurable. I never met Jerry, though I wrote  a bunch of songs with his son, Oliver, in the early 90’s. But Nick I knew and loved. Not just as a songwriter who wrote my favorite song of all time but as one of nicest guys around. His eyes always sparkled, he was always smiling and soul oozed out of him as naturally as breath.

Along with his brilliant wife and collaborator, Valerie Simpson, Nick turned out the kind of songs that made my songwriting head spin. Can you say “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”?! How does a song get any better than that?? In any of the zillions of versions of it that exist? And that’s just the tip of the hitberg.

When my musical, The Color Purple, opened on Broadway, Nick and Val were there. And when Chaka Kahn came in as Sofia a couple of years later they were there again. I don’t know where Valerie was for this shot with me, my Color Purple collaborator, Brenda Russell, and Patti LaBelle, the singer who first started regularly doing my songs back in the day, but that big smile was typical of how Nick always walked around.

Nick and Val also came to the Broadway opening of Hot Feet, the Earth Wind & Fire musical I had seven songs in. Here we are with Maurice White, founder and lead singer of EWF and who gave me the biggest break of my career with “September” and all that followed, and LaChanze, who won a Tony for playing Celie in The Color Purple.

Nick and Val were among the most supportive songwriters ever. I can’t even tell you how incredible it made me feel as a songwriter every time they told me how much they loved my music.

Which is amazing because the only time I ever got to work with them was on a really stinky song in a really stinky movie. In 1987, Scott Sanders, who later produced The Color Purple, managed Ashford & Simpson and asked me to write and produce a song for them. My collaborator, Danny Sembello‘s, mom got very sick right after we began and he had to bow out of the project. I was in way over my head without him. If you know bad movies and didn’t know I did the song that everyone dances to in the infamous McDonalds scene,“Down To Earth”, in the kitschingly horrendous Mac and Me, I know you’re plotzing now. And you certainly can’t imagine royalty like Ashford & Simpson gracing that mess either. So even more impressive that they remained so kind and supportive of me through the years. But I shouldn’t be talking about bad songs when honoring such an iconic being as Nick Ashford. Everyone should be as blessed to have such a joyous soul in their life.

Just a few weeks ago another iconic songwriter and friend passed, Jerry Ragovoy. Not only did he write such gems as “Piece Of My Heart” and “Time Is On My Side”, but he discovered an unknown songwriter named Allee Willis and produced her one and only album, Childstar, in 1974.

This hasn’t been a very happy month for songwriters. Though if I think about the jam going on upstairs it makes me smile. Besides, these are the kind of guys that live forever. R.I.P. Jerry Leiber, Nick Ashford and Jerry Ragovoy. If ever there were Rock ‘n Roll royalty this is it.


As I’ve been blabbing about for weeks now, I had the extreme pleasure of conducting my high school marching band playing a medley of some of my greatest hits in the lobby of the theater I grew up in in Detroit with the cast of the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple, singing along. I meant to post video of our performance as soon as I got home but to my horror, one of the three cameramen only shot the students from the back and the other both forgot to turn his camera on for parts of songs and babbled over the footage like he was the subject of a documentary. So it took quite a lot of editing to get something where you could even begin to see the  warm, wonderful and uplifting-higher-than-the-sky feeling that permeated the theater that day.

The performance was a benfit to buy new marching band uniforms for the Mumford band. The last time they got new uniforms was in 1984 when Jerry Bruckheimer, also a Mumford grad, bought them so they could play at the premiere of Beverly Hills Cop in Detroit. I got a Grammy for Beverly Hills Cop so this entire extravaganza was tied up in one fantastically organic bow!

Also organic was my shoes and socks combo in the Mumford school colors.

I had an excellent time wearing my hat, color coordinated to The Color Purple, the matinee of which started immediately after the closing notes of the marching band. Though my hat ecstacy only lasted a couple of bars. Too wobbly on my head.

If the music was wobbly at all it’s only the charm of a high school band and a songwriter who’s never learned how to read, notate or play music despite her songs selling more than 50 million records.

That’s the innocence of youth. I hope you enjoy our youth as much as me and the kids did. It was a VERY special experience indeed.


Sunday night I went to Storm Lee’s birthday party. He’s a great singer and killed it on The X Factor, the British version of Simon Cowell’s follow-up to American Idol, soon to debut here in the states. Storm and I have only rendezvoused a few times, once at his birthday party and then when he came over after we met at a party a few months ago. We got along famously from the second he walked in my place. First of all, he had on excellent kitsch bling, a bulbous brass Mickey Mouse ring.

When I admired bulbous Mickey, he immediately gave me this:

Anyone who walks into your house for the first time bearing gifts is pleasure enough. But when they hit it on the nose as severely as a sunglassed, gold grilled Michael-Jackson-as-the-Sphynx pendant you can only hope that their personality is as good as their taste in gifts as this could be the start of a wonderful friendship not to mention music collaboration. It’s an even better sign when you’re both wearing the same shoes, albeit different colors.

I believe in synchronicity. My life has always gone that way. I won’t be aware of anything and then something so pertinent to the immediate events in your life shows up all of a sudden, perfectly timed. That’s how it was with Storm and the Michael Jackson sphynx pendant.

The sphinx has always held special significance to me as I got my big music break with Earth, Wind & Fire, a group whose graphics and sets prominently feature Egyptian icons. Within hours of Storm gaving me the pendant, I went to a party for a soon-to-be-released documentary about the Fender Rhodes, the preeminent electric keyboard. I was in the documentary singing my first EWF hit, “September”, with Larry Dunn, the group’s original keyboard player who played the Rhodes on “September” and all my other EWF songs. The segment was filmed at my house a few months earlier. I had only seen Larry once since the early 80s and he had absolutely no idea that it was my house he was coming to to film the documentary. So the fact that I was seeing him once again on the very night that the MJ sphinx was bestowed upon me felt highly synchronistic to me. Here I am that night wearing it with Larry:

I remember not being happy with my choice of glasses. But Michael-as-sphnyx drew so much attention I didn’t have to worry about people focusing on my face.

So Sunday night it was only natural that I wear MJ sphynx to the person who gave it to me’s birthday party.

Also at the party celebrating Storm and admiring the sphinx were (L-R) International Chanteuse, Morganne, ASCAP’s Brendan Okent, and songwriters Robin Lerner and Ken Hirsch…

…and Jim Budman, not in the floral arrangement, who I came with and have known since I was a teenager in Detroit.

Did I mention that Michael Jackson-as-sphinx can also be worn as a pin?

I always appreciate when something is multifunctional.

I am multifunctional. And now Storm is multifunctional as both friend and music co-conspirator!


Once an intro includes shooting a blank wall and someone tripping on stage you know that you have the potential for something great. Once the singing starts though I thought it was going to pan out to be a little too good. But that Caucasian-spiked arrangement I talk about a lot that so many school chorale groups follow with all the “hey hey heys”, new harmonies and rhythms straightened out to be so on the beat that the funk gets thrown out like an old piece of fish, is alive and well here. The fun really starts at 1:43 when someone steps out to solo. That’s when I am certain that whoever wrote this arrangement was drinking. I don’t know where they got the melody from – literally not one note of is right for that point in the song as it jumps from the lead vocal to a bizarre background note. And then there’s that wrong lyric that constantly drives me nuts that, because someone was too lazy to get the sheet music from the publisher and thought they were hearing it correctly from the record, went with it in their arrangement, perpetuating the inaccuracy forever.  It’s also fantastic how the mic is handed off to a second soloist who then steps out front with it dangling at his side and continues singing backgrounds as if only a lead vocal needed a mic. The vocal that finally comes left me speechless. Only to be capped off by that funky little ending the aforementioned arranger, who I’m certain only listens to theater music, wrote.


As someone who likes to video as many momentous occasions in their life as possible I’m often in the position of having to set a tripod in inconspicuous spots to capture all the action. I suppose that’s what happened here but I can’t figure out who exactly wanted their action captured as the most predominant  documentation we get is a nice view of a balding head. I’m going to place my money on the drummer though, who plays the most curious rhythm on his sticks before they actually hit the intro cymbals.

Even if not played so spectacularly, a song like “September” has a tremendous amount of energy. A lot of times in songs that exhibit less energy, musicians add modulations in expectation that it will drive the pulse higher and higher. The Funny Fellows Jazz Orchestra of Tokyo wastes no time getting to the modulation!  This is one of the only times I’ve ever heard a modulation occur in this song (or any) before the verse even begins.  All else sails along in good Big Band  form though it sounds like some of the horn players may have snuck a little nip before the show.

For a more through exploration of my “365 Days Of September” mission as well as details of how the song was written, go here. Until tomorrow, ba-de-ya!



The Vertigo inducing ‘can I offer you  some strobe?’ lighting  and overuse of a smoke machine provide the perfect environment for “Margarita and the boys”,  some of whom are clearly girls, to dance to “September” on this, Day 4 of the 365 day YouTube marathon. In searching for people “borrowing” my song “royalty free”,  I can’t believe how many line dances there are to it. I always thought line dances were for country songs but now I know that line dances are for happy songs.

For a more through exploration of my “365 Days Of September” mission as well as details of how the song was written, go here. Until tomorrow, ba-de-ya!