Allee Willis Loves Detroit - February Blog

February 12, 2014

I went to Schulze elementary and Mumford and loved them both and remember being very proud that’s where I went to school.

As a kid, I always thought I would be a veterinarian.  But then when I was in the 11th grade, my English teacher, Mr. Hill I think, started talking to us about advertising. By exploring language in pop culture he made a lot of kids like me more interested in English than I ever would have been had he stuck strictly to the curriculum. I went on to major in journalism and advertising in college (University of Wisconsin) and got a job at Columbia and Epic Records in New York writing ads and radio commercials for the labels’ artists when I graduated. A few years later I became a songwriter. Advertising had already taught me how to build up excitement and get to the point quickly. There’s no question that the passion this teacher instilled in me became the basis for my approach to songwriting. So thank you, Mr. Hill, because without you there would be no “September,” Boogie Wonderland,” or “I’ll Be There For You”, the Friends theme.

I didn’t even know that Eddie Murphy played a cop from Detroit when I wrote “Neutron Dance” and “Stir It Up” for Beverly Hills Cop, winning a Grammy in the process. And it wasn’t until I was sitting in Jerry Bruckheimer’s office watching a cut of the film a few weeks before it was released that I knew Eddie wore a Mumford T-shirt throughout most of it. Needless to say, this made my love for my school even stronger. But it wasn’t until 2008 when my musical, The Color Purple, opened at the Fox, that I went back. I’d been living in LA for almost 35 years when I contacted then Principal, Linda Spight and asked if I could come speak to the arts students there.

I felt that old Mumford spirit as soon as I walked through the doors and vowed to never leave again. The next year I did a project with the students on public radio during Black History Month, conducted the Mumford marching band in a medley of my hits at the Fox with the cast of Color Purple singing along when it came back the next year, came to Cass when they became the first high school in the country to license the show, and then did the very last concert at Mumford before it was knocked down, despite the fact that I was ready to bodily throw myself in front of that building to block that wrecking ball! But then Miss Spight introduced me to the new principal of the new school, K.C. Wilbourne, who swung the doors open for the current project I’m doing in Detroit, “The D”, http://www.wesingthed.com, in which both Schulze and Mumford participated.

Another thing I got from Mumford is my love of color, which sprouted into a whole separate career for me of being an artist, set designer, and graphic and multimedia artist. Going to a school that was literally powder blue and pink was a total joy. I was very aware every time I stepped into the building how happy that burst of color made me. I felt like I was walking into an art piece. That color scheme stayed with me my entire life. At a very young age I understood the importance of environment and that color and spirit could totally affect someone’s mood. Even my house, built as the party house for MGM in 1937, is pink, the exact color of the Mumford tiles, and the driveway and pavement around the house are exact Mumford baby blue.

There’s no question I would not be the artist or songwriter I am today without my experience in the Detroit Public School System. It gave me my spirit and my soul. (Though shame on my music teacher who shall go unnamed for not letting me into Glee Club!) To all my other teachers, THANK YOU!!! And I LOVE you, Detroit!

Are you interested in purchasing a piece of Mumford history?  Get your Authentic Mumford High School Brick today!

Catherine Blackwell – Proclamation from DPS FoundationCollege May Not Be The Right Choice For All High School Grads by Dr. Glenda Price (Commentary Posted on BridgeMI.com)

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