"THE D" Photos - "THE D" Record, video and film DETROIT, 2013
If you're born in Detroit rhythm is a God given instinct. So between 2013 and 2016 I took ten trips home to record "THE D", the unofficial official theme song to accompany the city’s rapid re-invention, at 60 sing-alongs all over the city. The soon-to-be-released record and video feature more people than have ever been on a record in history – 5000+ including a plethora of Detroit born celebrities.
Click any of the photos below to see who and where we recorded.
Click any of the photos below to see who and where we recorded.
On October 26, 2015 the dream of Detroit dreams happened if your goal was to stage a sing-along of a song you wrote to celebrate your city at the crownest of crown jewels in that city. For two and a half years I tried to set one such sing-along up at the DIA a.k.a. The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit’s foremost bastion of art. Hustled through a flurry of receptionists and low rungers I eventually gave up, content with the 60 other fabulous locations that agreed to host sing-alongs. Then out of the blue in the summer of 2015 a friend texted me that her college roommate was married to the new CEO of the DIA and did I want to do a sing-long there. And the day after that another friend emailed that she was friends with the new CEO of the DIA and did I want to talk to him about my project. Of course I said YES and so it happened! My life has been a series of timing synchronicities - things rarely working out at the time I’m working on them but somehow come careening back into my life when I randomly sit next to someone at a dinner party or maybe the world has just caught up and it's the perfect time for something to happen. So thank you, Salvador Pons-Salort. This was a THRILLING day at The DIA as evidenced in the photos below
Martha Reeves at Harmonie Park Studios
Our very first stop our very first day of filming and recording in Detroit was spent with Motown legend Martha Reeves of Martha & The Vandellas. Having previously recorded Motown icons like The Supremes' Mary Wilson and Scherrie Payne, and classic Motown songwriters, arrangers and producers like Lamont Dozier, Leon Ware, and Mickey Stevenson, it was thrilling to add Martha Reeves to the mix. I always loved Martha & The Vandellas. They had a rough street girl quality compared to the Supremes and most other Motown groups. The Vandellas' records were raw sounding, like an eternal party in the basement rolling in sweat and soul. Martha Reeves was one of the Detroit City Council members who gave me my first award from the city. But we didn't really get to know each other until we did a bunch of book signings together earlier this year for Jenny Risher's Heart Soul Detroit book that we're both in along with 50 other iconic Detroiters. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
New Ebenezer Baptist Church
It may have been pouring rain outside but inside New Ebenezer Baptist Church the only thing reigning down was SOUL! After a year and a half of planning, this was our very first group sing-along. Walking in and hearing the New Ebenezer choir fully rehearsed was a supreme treat as this was not the case at many of the other locations. Thank you, most gorgeous voices at New Ebenezer! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
The Motown Museum
'm STILL on Cloud 9 after FINALLY getting into Motown after a lifetime of worshipping each and every note that ever spilled outta there. I spent countless afternoons of my youth sitting out on the front lawn in front of the little house that was Motown, watching the stars walk in and praying I could hear something seeping through the walls so I "knew" all the songs before they even came on the radio.Through the years I have written songs and worked with some of the greatest Motown songwriters, like Lamont Dozier , Ashford & Simpson, and Leon Ware. As more and more Motown artists started singing on "The D", I realized it was imperative to finally penetrate the castle walls. This happened when Paul Riser, gifted Funk Brother trombonist and arranger of classics like "My Girl" and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", arranged for us to be the first folks to "record" in the studio since Motown closed its Detroit doors in 1972. We brought our laptop studio into the Snakepit and recorded Paul, Ed Wolfrum and Michael Grace, the engineers who literally built the studio in the early 60's, and the family of legendary Motown bassist James Jamerson. Thank you, Paul Riser, for putting this all together. It was a totally magic day and the stuff of dreams for me.To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
American Jewelry and Loan
Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE reality shows, and none more than Hardcore Pawn, which is not only filmed in Detroit but the store is the former site of an old bowling alley on Greenfield and 8 Mile where I used to pound the gutters as a kid. I visited American Jewelry & Loan on an earlier trip to Detroit this year and bonded with Les Gold big time. Beyond an incredible guy! This trip the crew and I were thrilled to also meet Ashley and Seth and get some big "D" love from them too. I LOVE THE GOLDS! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Schulze Academy for Technology and The Arts
Having attended first through eighth grades at Schulze Academy, which was just called Schulze elementary school in the original building I attended near Meyers and Six Mile Rd., I was elated to finally return there after half a century! Though I spent my entire life thinking I went to SchulTZ and not SchulZE - correct spelling of which was only pointed out to me a couple of years ago. Thank you Principal Dr. Brenda Lyons for the excellent hospitality and thanks students for the excellent attendance! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Consumer Auto Parts
Earlier this year, Tyree Guyton, founder and godhead of The Heidelberg Project, one of the beneficiaries of all profits coming from "The D", threw a white tablecloth lunch at Consumer Auto Parts scrapyard announcing a collaboration between the two of us. This was easily the BEST press lunch ever! So there was no way we weren't going to record some of "The D" there, especially as owner Kevin Abbott remembered my father, Big Nate Willis, former President of the Scrap Federation Of America and who owned a scrapyard right down Mt. Elliot back in the day. Thank you everyone for traversing the rivers of metal and mud on this most sacred ground to belt out "The D"! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Detroit Yacht Club
As a kid growing up in Detroit my dream was always to go the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle. Those were different times however, so it was never to be until Lisa Nowak invited us to do a "D" sing-along there and then took the entire crew, followed by our helicopter camera, for a ride down the Detroit River, something else I had never done before. Thank you everyone who participated from the Detroit Yacht Club - and that means YOU too, Milton! - for this most magical and seaworthy of days! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Mumford High School
I always took such pride in going to Mumford High which, until last year when it was bulldozed, was just about the most gorgeous baby blue block-long hunk of Deco-fabulous architecture on the planet. Despite that structure being needlessly destroyed and my obsessive carrying on about it, things are jumping in the new building. Just as her predecessor at the old Mumford, Principal Linda Spight, present Principal K.C. Wilbourne gave us the run of the school as we recorded and filmed the current students in the afternoon and my graduating class that evening. It may have taken me four decades to come back - the first time was in 2008 when my musical, The Color Purple, first opened in Detroit - but I've been back to Mumford every year since. The third time Purple opened there, I conducted the Mumford marching band playing a medley of my greatest hits with the cast of the show singing along at the Fox Theatre, where the show was being performed. We raised money for new band uniforms, the first time they had been replaced since Jerry Bruckheimer, also a Mumford grad, bought them for the premiere of Beverly Hills Cop, for which I won me a Grammy for Best Soundtrack. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Chef Greg's Soul In The Wall"
I haven't shut up about this being my favorite food spot in Detroit since I first hit it before a concert I did at my high school right down the block in 2011. So crazy did I go over this joint that I fly Chef Greg Beard out to LA whenever I perform live to serve his signature Boogaloo Wonderland sandwiches, named by a Mumford student in 1967 after the popular Boogaloo dance ("This sandwich tastes so good it makes me wanna do The Boogaloo!"). The 'Wonderland' was added when I met Chef Greg several decades later and went so nuts over the sandwich he added it as a tribute to my song "Boogie Wonderland". This trip we just made a quick drop-in for lunch between the two "D" shoots we had at Mumford. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Mumford High School - Class of '65
Earlier in the day we recorded and filmed current students at my alma mater, Mumford High, singing "The D". After an incredible soul food lunch at Chef Greg's Soul In The Wall we returned to record some of the "kids" from my 1965 graduating class. I'm happy to report that very little mojo had dissipated after all these decades. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Detroit Dog Rescue
Thanks to Hush and all the pooches and staff at Detroit Dog Rescue for the fancy footing and paws on "The D". Getting to dance with a boxer was a highlight of my entire recording life! This sing-along was a blast! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Henry The Hatter
Whenever we used to drive downtown for dinner as a kid I would scream to go into Henry The Hatter. I loved the classic neon and the 50's exec/60's and 70's pimp hats in the window displays. But seeing as I didn't start wearing hats until much later in life my parents didn't see the need to stop in so I could discover one more thing I wanted to collect, such as my fate has been with beanies and the over 200 unique ones I've acquired over the past couple years. When I announced I was doing "The D", someone I went to high school with emailed and said they were the present owner of Henry The Hatter and asked if I'd like to shoot there. Of course I screamed YES!!! The place lived up to my fantasies about it and beyond. Creaking up the floors on the store's original elevator, it was thrilling combing through the towering stacks of vintage hat boxes. I scored two knit 70's Soul Train style rim caps, neither of which has left my head for more than an hour or two since we were there. Thank you, Paul Wasserman, for the excellent hospitality, vocals and hats! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Deep River Y Choir
Thanks to the incredible members of the Deep River Y Choir. And special shout-out to Choir Director Bobbi Thompson for so thoroughly rehearsing everyone so our job was very easy. Your voices sounded beautiful echoing from the rafters of such a gorgeous church. Many members of the choir also joined us at other locations and I appreciated getting to hear those golden tones so frequently. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
Pasteur Elementary School
Despite having so many childhood friends who attended Pasteur elementary school I had never been before we recorded and filmed "The D" there. As a vintage architecture freak, especially one who was so saddened when both my elementary and high school were demolished, I was elated to walk through the halls at Pasteur and see the pristine condition this school is still in. Gorgeous murals and decorations throughout, I would've loved walking through those halls as a kid because of all the eye candy. Thanks to Principal Sharon Lawson, music teacher Dale Anderson and Marcy Feldman, Pasteur alumn who facilitated this shoot. And, kids, you were GREAT! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Henry Ford Health Care Systems
For a shoot that I thought was going to be relatively conservative as it was happening at a hospital it was anything but that at Henry Ford Health Care Systems, located at one of Detroit's oldest and most respected hospitals, Henry Ford. Not only was the weather perfect but so were these hospital care workers' voices and spirit. Fully rehearsed and choreographed, this was absolutely one of my favorite shoots. It was also our first Soul Train line, which led to that being a tradition at many of the other shoots. With camera people high up on the roof of the hospital we filmed on the gorgeous lawn and heliport below. NBC News also filmed us, which was part of a news story that evening as well as an upcoming half an hour special on "The D" that will air in a few months. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
The Greening of Detroit
As an avid hater of the endless news reports and documentaries highlighting the "blight and despair" in Detroit I'm here to tell you that that's NOT what fills this city of gorgeous vintage buildings and some of the greatest and most prolific street art one could ever hope to stumble upon. Something else incredible going on is the planting of over 80,000 trees around the city since Greening Of Detroit was established in the late 1980s. In the city once known as "The City of Trees" because of the incredible tree tunnels on so many residential streets, Greening of Detroit not only made a corner plot of land more beautiful with trees the day we recorded about 50 of their finest volunteers but also with their voices. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
The Heidelberg Project
It's no secret that The Heidelberg Project is one of my favorite places on earth and that I can't wait to work on a collaboration with founder/artist Tyree Guyton of a giant physical installation there. On this particular day, the 21st of September, a very special day for me as it's the date in the first line of my very first hit song, "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire, two incredible Gospel choirs made it even more special, Derrick Milan and The Krew and The Michael Mindingall Choir. Thank you all! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
Thanks to owners Pat Cunningham and Kelly Corbett for another one of our most memorable shoots doing "the D". I loved being hoisted around in a laundry cart and we finally had an excellent method for getting tracking shots as we stuffed our camera people into the carts as well. My collaborator, Andrae Alexander, even got his underwear fluffed and folded during the shoot! Excellent laundry and choreography at Lafayette Laundry, located in Lafayette Park, the historic Mies van der Rohe apartment towers and shopping center. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Dossin Maritime Museum
I never even knew about the Dossin Maritime Museum on Belle Isle until Bob Bury, CEO of the Detroit Historical Society recommended we film there. We had a ball from the minute Bob and his wife Mary Ann delivered us in Laverne, their classic 1975 Lincoln Continental Town Car that still smells like it just rolled off the assembly line. Thanks to all the visitors to the Museum who assembled for "The D" on the high seas! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
The Heidelberg Project
This was our one big open-to-the-public sing-along. Between the music, motorcycles, helicopter camera and plethora of incredibly enthusiastic Detroiters who assembled this was a pretty exceptional and inspirational day. Thanks especially to Mr. Dangerous who gifted me with a watermelon. Just another down home and real deal day at Heidelberg, seriously one of my most favorite places on earth. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
The Fisher Theatre
One of Detroit's most famous buildings, this Historical Landmark Albert Kahn-designed Deco masterpiece opened in 1928 and has often been called “Detroit’s largest art object". The Fisher Building remains jaw-dropping to this day. Home to the 2039 seat Fisher Theatre, and office and retail space, the building is located directly across the street from the equally historic General Motors building, The Fisher is also right down the block from Motown and Henry Ford Hospital, where incredible "D" shoots also occurred. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
Michigan Opera Theatre - Children's Chorus
I freely admit I never liked opera before. Most likely because I never gave it a chance and was a firm R&B freak from the moment I heard the first note of it roll out of my transistor radio in 1960. So when the Michigan Opera Theatre was first mentioned to participate in "The D" my response was lukewarm. I loved that a big chorus would be assembled but I wasn't sure what they were going to do with a feel as loose and rhythmic as "The D". Well, let me just tell you... I now LOVE Opera! First we recorded the children's choir. These kids totally had the song locked down before we arrived, much appreciated after doing 40 sing-alongs in 18 days. They sang perfectly and were adorable. Then we recorded the adult choir. As soon as these people opened their mouths my opera prejudice went out the window. They sounded GORGEOUS. Not to mention that the vintage grandeur of the Michigan Opera House with it's sweeping staircases and tableaus made it even more dripping-with-elegance exciting. Thank you Michigan Opera Theatre for gracing us with the voices of angels! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Michigan Opera Theatre - Adult Chorus
I freely admit I never liked opera before. Most likely because I never gave it a chance and was a firm R&B freak from the moment I heard the first note of it roll out of my transistor radio in 1960. So when the Michigan Opera Theatre was first mentioned to participate in "The D" my response was lukewarm. I loved that a big chorus would be assembled but I wasn't sure what they were going to do with a feel as funky as "The D". Well, let me just tell you... I now LOVE Opera! First we recorded the children's choir. These kids totally had the song locked down before we arrived, much appreciated after doing 40 sing-alongs in 18 days. They sang perfectly and were adorable. Then we recorded the adult choir. As soon as these people opened their mouths my opera prejudice went out the window. They sounded GORGEOUS. Not to mention that the vintage grandeur of the Michigan Opera House with it's sweeping staircases and tableaus made it even more dripping-with-elegance exciting. Thank you Michigan Opera Theatre for gracing us with the voices of angels! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Wayne State University
Right in the heart of the city, Wayne State University has been a staple in Detroit since it was founded in 1868. My brother went there so I was excited this was one of our locations. Despite us arriving and no group being assembled we lucked out with a bullhorn at lunchtime and many cartwheels were enjoyed by all. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Thanks to everyone who assembled on the gorgeous inlaid marble floor in the lobby of The Chrysler House to help us film and record "The D". There were many Quicken Loans employees there so thanks to all of you for your excellent foot and vocal chord work! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
The Whitney, one of Detroit's finest restaurants, is located in one of the oldest houses in Detroit on the first paved road in the world, Woodward Ave. Built by lumber baron David Whitney in1894, this place is absolutely gorgeous. After passing by it a zillion times as a kid I finally made it in on a visit last January. Then in July, The Whitney hosted a fundraiser for "The D" and I fell in love with it on a permanent basis. Special thanks to Dave Duey for all his help. You are a "D" angel! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
College For Creative Studies
Smack dab in the heart of mid-city we arrived at The College For Creative Studies on Superhero Day so we were most happy to have a variety of masked and cloaked folks join us. Most were just strolling from one class to another and I'm happy to say we were there to provide them with a most excellent hooky excuse. Cartwheels in the mud and SuperBatman. What more could we ask for?! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
The Detroit Historical Society
The Detroit Historical Society is a place I used to constantly go to as a kid so I have very fond memories of it. This past July I was elated when my portrait and some of my personal artifacts were featured in an exhibit there spotlighting the Heart Soul Detroit book I'm in written by Jenny Risher and featuring 50 iconic Detroiters. I was totally blown away at the restoration of the Historical Society. The 1927 Streamline building was always beautiful on the outside and now it has a matching inside. And I can't thank CEO Robert Bury enough for the most generous hospitality he and the DHS showed us while we were in Detroit doing these sing-alongs. Not only did we have one of my favorite song fests and Soul Train lines there but I got to squish my hands in cement so I am now forever immortalized in my hometown! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
DEPSA Youth Chorale at Collision Works
When I first heard about Collision Works I immediately contributed to the Indiegogo campaign supporting it. The idea of a hotel made out of abandoned storage containers and based around storytelling was just too good to be true. I became friends with Shel Kimen, whose project Collision Works is, and was elated when I found out the First Container was actually set up on a temporary site at Eastern Market. Eventually there will be 60 such containers there and a full-fledged/full-service hotel. On this particular day, the Youth Chorale from Detroit Edison Public Academy, right around the corner from Eastern Market, came and sang and danced on the storage container deck. These kids were adorable and sounded incredible. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
John Sinclair at The Masonic Temple
John Sinclair is about as iconic as you can get when it comes to music, revolution and other culture-bending stuff that Detroit was a hotbed for in the 1960's. A poet, the manager of Rock pioneers MC5, leader of the White Panther Party, Sinclair remains an iconic figure to this day. If you don't know who he is, read about him here. If you do, you know why I was so thrilled to grab some time with him on the roof of the Masonic Temple overlooking Detroit this particular day. Thank you once again, Jenny Risher, for introducing me to yet one more fantastic person in your Heart Soul Detroit collection of iconic Detroiters. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
D-Hive is one of the most present signs of new life in Detroit. Operating out of a storefront in the city’s mid-city business district, D-Hive connects people with the tools and resources they need to live, work or engage in the city. We had our first crew meeting there, and on the day of our sing-along members of President Obama's cabinet were also meeting there about investing in the city. D-Hive is truly at the center of the new Detroit universe. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
The Doubletree Hotel at Fort Shelby
I love the Doubletree in Detroit. Not only is it right down the block from my favorite grub hub there, Lafayette Coney Dogs - Coneys were invented in Detroit; all they did at Coney Island was throw the onions on top - but the hotel is great looking, and my corner suite was bigger than my house in LA. The staff is great (especially now that one particularly irritable desk clerk is gone), LaFrance in the shoeshine room is the man who shined OJ's "ugly ass" Bruno Magli shoes and turned the photo in proving that OJ ugly-assed around in them plenty including the night he left the bloody shoe prints at Nicole's. Though that has nothing to do with The Doubletree other than the excellent shoeshines that are available there. Anyway, if you hit the Motor City, lay your head at The Doubletree. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
African Bead Museum
Given how obsessed I am with handmade outdoor art and architectural and landscape handmade touches of all kinds it's insane that I never knew about The African Bead Museum until we combined that location with the great Dr. Weaver & The Hallelujah Singers for one of "The D" sing-alongs. I guess I just never drove far enough down Grand River before but trust me, that will never happen again! From the mirrored and beaded exterior to the sculpture gardens in the field bordering the freeway next door to the second massive equally well decorated building across the field the African Bead museum and grounds are a staggering sight to behold. Not to mention the most mind blowing collection of African made beads in the world, some dating back hundreds of years, textiles, sculptures and pottery, all for sale inside. Thank you, Olayami Dabls, esteemed fine-artist, museum curator, and historian, for your most excellent African Bead Museum! And as far as Dr. Weaver and his fabulous singers go, I can't thank you enough for sounding and looking even better than expected! Such a FABULOUS day! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Ford Piquette Plant
I used to be an avid collector of vintage cars. Mostly orphans, like my 1955 Studebaker Commander and '55 DeSoto Fireflyte that I still own although they've spent recent years sitting on blocks waiting for mommy to amass the coins to restore them. Point being that my outrageous lust for vintage cars was limited to post 1950 models. But as soon as they popped me into the Model T parked out in front of the plant where Henry Ford designed and built his very first car in 1908 my love of cars expanded to earlier decades. And once I got inside the plant and took a tour of the vehicles inside my head almost split open from my brain bouncing about so from the exceptionally sugar-pumped automotive eye candy. It was incredible having a sing-along in the midst of such wheeled brilliance, especially knowing that Henry Ford himself danced with excitement on the very floorboards we were standing on as he designed his first engine and drawings for the Model T chassis, all of which were mere feet from where we were singing. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Musician's Community Center Rock Academy
We weren't sure what was going to happen at the Musician's Community Center as we weren't sure how to treat having so many kids playing so many different instruments and recording all of it live outside on-the-fly. But as soon as we pulled up and saw five drum sets lining the roof and realized that not just kids study here but folks of all ages I knew we had something special. Don't even ask me how insanely incredible "The D" sounded rippling through the neighborhood as everyone gathered on the front lawn, led by the rooftop drum brigade! Adding helicopter cameras and motorcycles kicked the whole thing up into the stratosphere. Fox News was also there that day and captured a bunch of it that you can see here. Thank you SO much Marlo and Gordon Carver and everyone there that day! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Empire Boxing Gym
My friend, Jackie Kallen, is beyond a powerhouse in the world of boxing - the foremost female boxing manager, handler of champions, and subject of the film "Against The Ropes", where Meg Ryan portrayed her, among other things. We also went to high school together, though we never even met until we started doing book signings together earlier this year for Jenny Risher's beautiful Heart Soul Detroit book featuring 50 iconic Detroiters that we're both in. The bonding was fast and furious and I can't thank Jackie enough for assembling some of her brood at the Empire Boxing Club for an incredible sing-along, among them Bronco McKart, Scotty Buck, Tarick Salmaci and Leandre White. Special thanks to Johnny Cassar, owner of Empire Boxing Club, for hosting the extravaganza. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Church Of the Messiah
It may have been a rainy Sunday afternoon outside but inside the Church of the Messiah it was exceptionally sunny and soulful. As we were heading into the last few days of shoots I couldn't even feel my legs anymore from the incessant jumping up and down I had done over the previous 2 1/2 weeks. But the congregation at the Church of the Messiah had me going for another round, and the aisles made for perfect Soul Train lines. It was an excellent start to Sunday morning so thank you, Church Of The Messiah. The crew also loved their Nikki's Ginger Tea and I'm diggin the Purifoy Collection bow tie. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Mosaic Youth Theatre
Mosaic Youth Theatre is one of the beneficiaries of any profits made from "The D". As such, these incredibly talented kids from high schools all over the city were the first to ever debut the song in Detroit earlier this year at a Mosaic fundraiser. This time around there was a whole new crop of kids, all of them students of the arts, so the singing and choreography was outrageous. Thank you, Mosaic Youth and Rick Sperling. It's definitely a mutual admiration society! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
We hit Temple Israel on the very last day of this first round of "D" shoots. Organized by the President of the Temple, David Tisdale, a former classmate of mine at Schulze, this one was great as some of my best friends from high school were there. It was a small but mighty assemblage, and I'm happy to say we are all still great dancers! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Woodbridge Housing Community
This shoot was mindblowing. Not just because of the adorable kids who did the bulk of the singing but because of the location, the reason why it's there in the first place, and who lives at Woodbridge and attended the shoot. The Woodbridge Housing Community is a series of housing units, many of which are inhabited by many former Motown superstars and all the streets are named as such. As a Motown superfreak, I needed sedation just to drive through the intersection of Temptations Lane and The Supremes. In attendance were three of The Contours and a Vandella. Hand me an oxygen tank I was so excited! I worshipped the records both of these historic Soul groups made because of all the Motown acts The Contours and Martha Reeves and The Vandellas were the rawest. They made records that were serious party anthems - "Do You Love Me?", "Dancing In The Streets", records that sounded like a bunch of people were stuffed into a basement having the time of their lives. My favorite Contours song was a little known Smoky Robinson tune, "First I Look At The Purse". I had a thrill of my lifetime singing it with the Contours in attendance this day. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Busy Bee Hardware
Without question, Busy Bee Hardware is my favorite mural-covered building in Detroit as the bees are so happy and so perfect for photo posing. Despite wanting to go inside this building on the edge of Eastern Market my entire life I never made it in until "The D" sing-along we had there on November 27, 2013. Boy, I was SO not disappointed! From the phenomenal family who's run the joint since 1918 with stories galore and service with a huge smile to the wide array of vintage toys, pickle crocks, canning jars, and every tool under the sun still gracing the shelves, the BB is a spectacularly preserved vintage gem serving contemporary needs. It was Thanksgiving weekend so more people were carving turkeys than shopping for saws but we had a fine time with the Busy Bee folks racing up and down the aisles of tools and solvents. I'm such a hardware store freak anyway just to be around that amount of hammers in one spot was a complete thrill. Thank you, all you Busy Bees! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
The NBC / WDIV Wizard of Oz float in the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade
I am just usually climbing into bed at the insane hour that we had to wake up in order to get to a 6 AM rehearsal on a very dark, snowy and freezing Woodward Avenue with 150 Michigan Pom-Pom Girls who were performing "The D" in the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade. After the very quick yet bone chilling rehearsal I had a hot chocolate with Ruben Studdard who was singing a Christmas song right before the Poms and me did our thing. Aside from the fact that the music sounded like it had been DJ'ed by a 103 year old to whom anything louder than a whisper was excruciating - I literally was conducting "The D" to an inaudible track with nothing but a very distant kick drum to guide me and the 300 swinging Pom arms but somehow they flexed in time. As soon as that performance was done they hoisted me onto a golf cart and off we went to catch up with the NBC/WDIV Wizard of Oz float that I was to ride on. This might sound like it would be a pleasant respite from the more frenzied activity of the earlier AM but, in fact, going 30 miles an hour in freezing falling snow in a golf cart with no windshield to protect a person from LA with zero knowledge of tricks to keep warm, my fingertips were practically disengaged from my hands before we even reached the float. Then there was the three and a half miles down Woodward on a moving vehicle with no heater or windshield and nothing but a little 4 ft. square fleece blanket they hand you before you get on the float to keep the frostbite away. Do I use it to keep the cold plastic seat warm or do I attempt to wrap it around my refrigerated carcass? It really wasn't wide enough for either and most of the time it fell to the ground and looked like flocking at the base of a Christmas tree draped as it was around my numb ankles. And then there was my Go Pro camera which I had mounted on a magic wand to film my insane teeth chattering and brain frozen bitching. As the only person in the world who has never seen the Wizard of Oz I have answered the question of why that is a zillion times. It is simply because even as a small child that "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead" song drove me NUTS. Far too repetitive and annoying for me, even at 3. But not until I set a frozen foot on the float did it dawn on me that that song would be hammered into my brain back to back at least 600 times during the two hour so-cold-I'm-shocked-I-still-have-lips-on-my-face ride down Woodward. Most of the time I looked like a blanket-covered shell shocked Dali Lama, but I sprang into full conductor mode when we hit the TV Zone. All in all, I LOVED LOVED LOVED being in the parade. But from here on in my ride availability is only from May - September. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Detroit Bass Players and Metro Detroit Area Guitar Players at United Sound
This one was a dream come true for me. I'm a complete bottom freak. Bottom meaning bass, drums and anything else that can rattle the walls when the music is pumping. Ever since I fell in love with Motown growing up in the Motor City I noticed bass lines on records, how they moved the rhythm along never letting it drop for even a second. From the very beginning, my dream for "The D" was to load it up with more bottom than anyone would ever think possible on a record. What city is more deserving of a big bottom than Detroit??! Every person in the music industry told me I was crazy. You could never record more than one or two of any rhythm instruments playing the exact same part at the exact same time without it fazing, making it sound warped and woozy. But one advantage of being a completely unschooled musician is that you do things professionally trained musicians would never in their right mind do. Which can leads to a complete pile of crap or an extraordinarily unique and hooky sounding song and record. I'd like to think I stumble down the latter path fairly frequently. So we had eight bass and nine guitar players assembled to record the rhythm at United Sound. Next to Motown/Hitsville this is Detroit's most legendary recording studio. Founded in the late 50s, the very first record Berry Gordy recorded was there and when he bought a house to build the new Motown studio in just a few blocks away he modeled that studio after the little house at United, where the overflow from Motown continued to be recorded. United is a Detroit treasure. I should mention a special fondness I have for bass players. Legendary Motown bassist Bob Babbitt played bass on my one and only album that came out in 1974, Childstar, on Epic Records. It contained the first 10 songs I ever wrote and marked not only the first time I ever heard a band play my songs but the first time I was ever in a real recording studio. I was so completely nervous and Babbitt went out of his way to be friendly, make me comfortable and kept me laughing all the time. And then in 1978, when I was so broke I was on food stamps, someone put me together to write with Verdine White, founding member and still bass player for the legendary Earth, Wind & Fire, who immediately introduced me to Maurice White, his brother and leader of the group, and within months out came my very first hit, "September", and changed my life forever. Two of my all time favorite bass players who profoundly affected my life not to mention my ears. Thank you to the following Detroit bass and guitar players for making my dream come true. You created a thunderous and funky chicken-scratch-rhythm-bottom fest that kept "the D" engine greased and wheels rollin! Reginald Canty, Big Ivan BigIve Williams, William Glenn, and Roosevelt Childress, Kevin Edwards, Goldie, Robert Lowe, Randal V. Wilson, Pirahna Head II, Randy Lynch, Keith Ferguson, Pete Peterson, Maiyana Davis, and Reichlin Small. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
All About Animals Rescue at Bob Maxey Ford
The only thing I love more than domestic pets is getting to dance with them. Which is exactly what happened when All About Animals Rescue assembled pooches and people at Bob Maxey Ford on Jefferson Ave. for a "D" sing-along on Nov. 30, 2013. Really hard to pick a favorite, whether it was the lumberingly massive and sweet Great Dane, the eternally sleepy baby Pitbull, or Murphee, the toothless 17 year old pooch with the mile long tongue, one canine was cuter than the next. They had superb voices as well, barking on cue. Seriously. Thank you, everyone who showed up with superb spirit! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Detroit Derby Girls December 1, 2013
I was more of an ice skater than a roller skater as a kid, mainly because my parents let me hose down the backyard and build snow seating for the best ice skating rink in the city. This was the beginning of my party hosting obsession, understanding that creating the right environment was just as important as party themed foods, music, wardrobe, guest list, et al. Whereas roller skating happened on the sidewalks where I couldn't control the esthetics. But I loved everything on wheels and always kept my roller skates oiled just in case I decided to try a few spins. Although I did NOT drag them out to demonstrate my lack of skill to the Detroit Derby Girls at "The D" sing-along as I wanted their very talented limbs to remain intact. When I first moved to LA, the one and only thing I got season tickets to was The Thunderbirds, the female skating team whose games were still played at the Olympic Auditorium, where all the prizefights took place too. Vintage to a T with matching carnival food, I loved watching these girls rip by each other with precision and speed and never lost my love of the sport. Joining the Detroit Derby Girls was Bogdon Vasquaf and his cardboard box bass. Literally made of cardboard and weed whacker twine, this thing has a rich, mellow sound and killed me! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Before we began recording and filming "The D" in Detroit on September 11, 2013, we recorded a plethora of famous Deetroiters at my studio in Los Angeles, Willis Wonderland. The first was my friend, mentor, and sometimes collaborator, the brilliant Lily Tomlin. She's from Detroit and we ALWAYS talk about the D when we're together. In 1999, when Lily hired my alter-ego, Bubbles the artist, to built her website we made sure to include a large Detroit section. It was only then that I discovered how far back I really went with Lily. When I was 6, my mother took me to see my first horror film, "The Creature From The Black Lagoon". It was playing at the Avalon, a theater just a few blocks away from the house I was born in. I barely remembered the film though as all I could talk about was the usher who sat us. All the ushers pointed their flashlight at the ground, lighting a path as they escorted you to your seat. But the usher who led us did these elaborate circle 8 patterns on the floor with hers, a real Cecila B. DeMille. That made more of an impression on me than the movie did and I proclaimed to my mother that THAT was what show business was all about. From that flashlight 'show' I realized that to stand out in show business you have to find your own hook. And that always stayed with me. When Lily and I were deciding on what parts of her upbringing in Detroit to use on the website she told me it was imperative to talk about her very first job - as an usher at the Avalon Theatre where she had a spectacular routine worked out with her flashlight! I experience these kind of synchronicities fairly often but this one took the cake! Or should I say flashlight? To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
As a lover of Pop Soul songs, I was always crazy bout Freda Payne. She had string of hits in the late 60's and into the 70's and I lusted after all of them, though none as much as "Band Of Gold", featuring background vocals by fellow Detroiters and now singers on "The D" Joyce Vincent, Telma Hopkins and Scherrie Payne. Freda and I became friends once we both lived in LA. She's as vibrant as ever, looks great, sounds great and is forever totally classic. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Needless to say, I'm elated that The Supremes are well represented on "The D". Scherrie Payne came into the group in 1973, joining Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong in what was still the best selling female group of all time. Scherrie and I have been friends for years. I think we met through our mutual friend, Sami McKinney, a great songwriter and soul-singer-connector like no other. Now that I think about it I'm pretty sure I met Freda, Scherrie's sister who's also on "The D", through Sami as well. Thank you, Paynes, for all you have brought to "The D". To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
Joyce and Pam Vincent
I, of course, was always aware of Tony Orlando & Dawn. You couldn't be alive in the 70's and NOT know about them. The airwaves blitzkreg of "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" and the fantastically kitschy Tony Orlando & Dawn Show made that impossibile. So when Marcella Detroit told me that Dawn came from Detroit there was no way I wasn't going to get those girls on "The D". Joyce and Pam Vincent were among the first of the famous singers to put their vocals on. I was used to teaching people the song on the spot but these gals came in prepared, complete with harmonies and nailed that sucker! Seriously, they sounded SO great! And then Telma Hopkins, also of Dawn, heard about it and she's coming over in the next few weeks to add her voice. So Allee Willis & Dawn are totally in da D house! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Angela V. Shelton
I love trash tv. I really loved when the whole VH-1-type show trend started with comedians commenting on clips of crazy things celebrities and regular people do. And two/one of my favorite commenters was and is Frangela, an hysterical comedy duo who begin and finish each other sentences. I met Frangela once at the opening of a (fantastic) restaurant I invested in in LA, Susan Feniger's Street. They had also just seen the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple, so we had a lot to talk about. But three years went by before I saw them again after a friend told me that one half of Frangela, Angela Shelton, came from Detroit and we reunited for "The D". Angela may not be a "singer" but she pumped more spirit into her vocals than almost anyone! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Marcy Levy, a.k.a. Marcella Detroit, and I go back to the early 80's when we became friends and wrote a few songs together. Marcy is an insanely great singer and has had much success as both an artist and songwriter. To say she has SOUL is an understatement. We lost contact for some years in there so I'm elated that "The D" has reunited us now! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Can't say enough about Greg Phillinganes. One of the greatest keyboard players who ever lived, you've heard him a hundred trillion times on classic Michael Jackson records and just about anyone else of consequence from the late 70's on. Greg and I met met right after my first hit, "September", came out. Once you work with Phillinganes it's hard to go back to any other keyboard player. He's also incredibly funny and a great, great guy. And, of course, from Detroit! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
With all of the Supremes worshipping I did growing up and despite the fact that Diana Ross has cut a few of my songs, it took into my sixth decade to finally meet one of the original Supremes. As such I almost died when Mary Wilson walked into one of the fundraisers we had in Detroit for "The D" over the summer. She came with Jenny Risher, the great photographer whose book, Heart Soul Detroit, features me, Mary and 50 other iconic Detroiters who were also being honored in an exhibition opening the next night at the Detroit Historical Society. Two nights with Mary in a row followed by a great recording session at my studio in LA make me one very happy Motown freak! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Diane and I met in the late 70s when she was a solo artist and background singer and her boyfriend, Kenny Lee Lewis, was my favorite bass player and in my demo band. One of my most starstruck moments ever happened at their wedding in 1981 when Diane introduced me to her mother - "Allee, you must know my mom, Martha Jean the Queen?". And with that I slithered down to the floor in shock. Not only had Martha Jean the Queen been the radio DJ who influenced, no, was responsible for my absolute love and worship of black music as she was on both of my favorite radio stations in Detroit growing up, WCHB and WJ LB. And not only did I have absolutely no idea that this was Diane's mother, or that Diane even came from Detroit, but until that very moment I didn't even know Diane, who was very light-skinned, was even black! And after I bowed at Martha Jean's toes it was Patti LaBelle, the first person who ever started regularly singing my songs, who dragged me up off the floor. Martha Jean has since passed. She's still my favorite DJ ever and I hope Detroit recognizes her in some official manner as we all know what Motown did for Detroit and anyone living there at the time knows what Martha Jean did for Motown. Thank you so much, Diane, for representing and singing on "The D"! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
This was my first time meeting Reggie McBride despite having heard about him for years. All my friends who had played with him in bands or who he had accompanied really liked this guy. Not to mention he has credits a mile long. So when Marcella Detroit told me that Reggie was from Detroit there was no question that he had to be on "The D". To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
have many songwriting idols but none sits so high atop the throne as Lamont Dozier, the music end of the insanely successful Motown writing triumvirate, Holland-Dozier-Holland. Never have I been more influenced by melodies, rhythms, lyrics, and chords as with the hundreds of hits these guys churned out in the golden years of Motown. I first wrote with Lamont with Holly Palmer, my Bubbles & Cheesecake partner,in 2000. I love writing with Lamont because as soon as his fingers hit the keys you hear the textural richness of Motown. It's always compulsively uplifting and joyous. He's also an incredibly nice guy, which makes each meeting with him better than the last. Having Lamont on "The D", a man whose work is so much of the reason I'm so proud to be from Detroit, was truly a Supreme honor. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Brandon Victor Dixon
I met Brandon Victor Dixon when he was cast as Harpo in the original cast of the musical I cowrote, The Color Purple. Brandon did the regional opening in Atlanta and then went on to open as Harpo on Broadway. He also came back for a short stint in the first national touring company of the show. I'm insane about Brandon, an incredible actor, incredibly hot right now as Berry Gordy in the Motown musical, incredibly handsome, incredibly nice, and an incredible and loyal friend. When we started getting so many original Motown artists, songwriters and producers on "The D", it seemed crazy not to have Berry Gordy. I was warned that he didn't do a lot of stuff like this, be in documentaries and such, so I kept putting off trying to figure out a way to get to him. Then out of the blue Brandon emailed and said he was coming to LA and I thought if I can't get Berry Gordy then I'm going to do the next best thing and get THE NEW Berry Gordy. And so Brandon, on his way to the actual Berry Gordy's house as soon as he finished recording with us, gave us all the Berry Gordy we needed for "The D". To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
Ray Parker Jr.
Ray and I go way back to my Earth, Wind & Fire days. Carole Childs, one my first friends when I came to LA in 1976, a powerhouse music publisher and A&R person who put me with EWF in the first place, was also a champion of Ray's. Those were very heady days for both of us. Ray was not only a brilliant guitar player but was having a whole run of hits as a songwriter and artist, starting with "Jack and Jill" and running through the immortal "Ghostbusters", the same time I was having my first whole run of hits starting with 'September". Thank you, Ray, for your contributions to "The D". "Who ya gonna call? Detroitbusters!". To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
I met Bruce Miller because I wrote the theme song to the TV show Friends and he wrote the theme to Fraiser and for 10 years we always stood next to each other in group photos of the winners at the yearly BMI Awards for songwriters and music publishers. We finally got together sometime in the late 90's to write a theme for a Jenny McCarthy show that was supposed to be on NBC. That didn't go anywhere but the friendship did. Especially after we discovered we both went to Mumford High in Detroit! Bruce is a great writer, arranger and friend and I'm elated he and his horns and strings are on "The D"! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
When I had my very first hits, "September" and "Boogie Wonderland" with Earth, Wind & Fire, I had an office at Irving Almo, the publishing division of A&M Records, which was right next to Leon Ware's, and we bonded big time. It was exciting for me to be friends with and collaborate with the writer of such Motown classics as The Jackson 5's "I Wanna Be Where You Are" and Marvin Gaye's entire "I Want You" LP. Leon was and is great. Lots of stories, laughs, and sentimental memories for me. But I didn't even know he was from Detroit until he sent an email asking why he wasn't included in "The D". Needless to say, I was elated to learn that and the situation was rectified instantly! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here
My "D" collaborator, Andre Alexander, and I were having dinner one night with Deanna DellaChoppa, our friend who was in the middle of an incredible run on America's Got Talent, and she happened to mention that a classic 60's producer at Motown had seen her sing in a club the year before and told her to call but she never did. She thought his name was Michael something. I'm the kind of Motown fanatic who knows the names of anyone who did anything there between the years of 1959 and 1972 when the label left Detroit for Los Angeles and I told her I couldn't think of a producer named Michael but by any chance did she mean Mickey? She started jumping up and down, yes, yes that's him! And the next thing I know she's dialed THE Mickey Stevenson and he was on his way over to my place the next day. Not only was this guy head of A&R at Motown, which meant he was in charge of all the artists and did things like put the Funk Brothers together, but he also wrote insanely popular classics like "Dancing in the Street," "Uptight," and "What's Become of the Brokenhearted?". And now he's singin' on "The D"! To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
Narada Michael Walden
I absolutely love Narada Michael Walden. We met in 1979 when he used to open for Patti LaBelle, who was the first artist to regularly record my songs. Right after I had my first hit, "September" by Earth Wind & Fire, everyone in the world started calling me to write with them. Among the most persistent was Narada, who I said no to for months because I was on severe overload. But once the flowers and candy started arriving and once I realized that someone who wanted to write with me this bad must really dig what I do, I said yes. And from that point on we started popping out songs like kittens. We co-wrote the biggest hit that Narada had as a solo artist, "I Shoulda Loved Ya", and wrote a slew of other songs for performers like Sister Sledge, Angela Bofill, Phyllis Hyman, Stacey Lattisaw, and more. Narada went on to have major success with Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and others and even won back-to-back Grammys for Producer of the Year. After many years, we got together early in 2013 and I absolutely vowed I would never lose contact with this man again. The drums Narada laid down on "The D" are absolutely insane. Unfortunately, when we drove up from LA to Narada's studio in San Rafael, CA. I could only take a skeleton crew. So all hands were on the movie cameras and almost none on the still cam. So here are the few shots we took. But more to come when we go back to San Rafael to mix the record with Narada after we finish more sing-alongs in Detroit at Thanksgiving. To learn more about "The D", the record, video, and feature length documentary go here.
I was really excited to work with Maejor. My animator who was working with me on the video for “The D" had a connection to him and we went for it. I definitely knew Maejor was a hot young singer from the D but got even more excited as I combed YouTube and saw numbers like 130,000,000 views on some of his songs. Maejor's gentle vocals wrapped around the roughness of thousands of Detroiters recorded on the streets’ vocals in a cocoon of sophistication. He was a great guy. We laughed a lot – always important to me. I definitely felt like I found a new collaborator as well as being honored and elated that he graced "The D".
I always loved Mayer Hawthorne’s smooth and soulful vocal and songwriting style so I was really excited to meet him. But I never could have guessed what an aesthetic match we were for each other. He's a collector just like me. He gets the Kitsch big time. We love the same music. We laughed the entire day we recorded “The D". It's always great when you find someone who not only you would love to work with but could be great friends with as well. No problem here whatsoever! We had a very happy day.
It takes a force of nature to recognize a force of nature and let me tell you Telma Hopkins is a force of nature! She's hysterical, talented, and bright, all qualities that make her the kind of person you warm up to instantly. I knew who Telma was from her days with Tony Orlando & Dawn, Gimme A Break! and Family Matters. What I didn't know is that she also was a background singer – I revere background singers pretty much more than I do the artists they sing behind – Telma was the background singer on some of my favorite records of all time and ones that had massive influence on me as a songwriter. Can you say "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye and my favorite movie theme of all time, “Shaft”, among MANY others??! I almost fell off my chair when Telma told me SHE is who voiced the immortal vocal in “Shaft", “Shut yo' mouth"! So we spent an excellent day together recording “The D” as Telma belted out some of the key background vocals on the record. “Proud to be a Detroit City girl" was/is the mantra of the day!
I don't even know how to start talking about Verdine White, one of the only two non-Detroiter/Michigan people on the record. There certainly would be no Allee Willis, at least in the form I exist today, without him. He discovered me, giving me the break of a lifetime, leading me right into the path of “September,” "Boogie Wonderland," and all that was Earth, Wind & Fire. What more could a starving songwriter who was living on food stamps and medical assistance ask for??! In addition to being my favorite bass player of all time it was a no-brainer that I bend the "Detroit only” rule and have Verdine slap the bass on “The D".
As a Detroit girl growing up in the 1960’s the music of the city was pretty much all Motown for me. But there was no denying that a new force blew in at the end of the decade that was just as strong and influential. Credited with being the world's first punk band, the MC5's rough and tumble rock spread through the music scene like wildfire with Wayne Kramer’s brilliant guitar playing leading the charge. And then there was the trend of customizing ones' guitar, a trend that must be credited to the one and only Kramer who did his up American flag. This has become the Holy Grail of guitars so imagine my delight when he opened up his case the day we recorded “The D” and there she was sitting there ready to wail. In addition to being a fantastic and iconic musician and an incredibly socially conscious artist Wayne is an incredibly nice guy.