Allee Willis and Lani Hall in A&M Studios in 1980. Photo: Allee Willis' personal archive.
"Until I heard [Gilbert O'Sullivan sing "Nothing Rhymed"] on the radio, I hadn't really thought much about writing songs or singing." Allee told Music Week her singing voice was "like Edith Piaf on acid."
Allee signed with Almo Music as a composer and lyricist. Probably Herb Alpert's introduction to Allee happened at an Almo/Irving Rondor when songwriters were asked to speak openly. Allee's opening comment was, "All publishers are pigs." Her fellow songwriters applauded.
Among the artists who recorded songs by Allee Willis: Patti LaBelle, Earth Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock and Rita Coolidge.
Allee Willis is most remembered for Earth Wind and Fire's "September", "Boogie Wonderland", the theme song to the television series "Friends" and as a co-writer for "The Color Purple." She is often credited with writing "Ba-de-ya" for "September" but Maurice White came up with the phrase and Allee argued to remove it. "Ba-de-ya" remained, and she told the Library of Congress, "He said something that forever changed my outlook on songwriting. I condense what he said to me as never let the lyrics get in way of the groove. If the melody, beat, and spirit are there then everyone will know–emotionally they will know–what you‘re saying….And I have lived by that the rest of my career. Lyrics can be clunky sometimes because someone is trying to make too much sense, or fit in a four-syllable word when a two-syllable one feels better…." "Ba-dee-ya!" It’s my favorite phrase ever invented… And it changed my life."
"I think people know my style and recognize my melodies. There’s also a tone to my lyrics—which “September” is a bit of an exception from—and it’s: If your life isn’t working, get off your ass and do something! If the world is falling apart, you can’t fall apart. Rise to your potential."
When Luck Finally Was a Lady For Allee Willis. Music Week, March 31, 1979.
Forever “September”: An Interview with Allee Willis. Cary O’Dell, Library Of Congress Blogs, April 24, 2019.