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Allee Willis, the prolific songwriter behind classics like the Friends theme song, “I’ll Be There for You,” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” died suddenly on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles from a cardiac event, her publicist Ellyn Solis confirms. She was 72.
She is survived by her partner of 27 years, Prudence Fenton, who is “in total shock.”
Fenton paid tribute to Willis on her Instagram page, writing alongside a photo of the artist, “Rest in Boogie Wonderland Nov 10,1947-December 24, 2019.”
Willis’ official Instagram page also announced her passing. “We are extremely shocked and devastated to share this news,” read a caption on the social media account.
Willis was famous for her collaboration with Earth, Wind & Fire, co-writing hit songs such as “September,” “Boogie Wonderland” and “In the Stone.” She was nominated for an Emmy for “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts; and won two Grammy Awards for her work on Beverly Hills Cop and the Tony-nominated Broadway musical The Color Purple, which she co-wrote.
The Color Purple opened in December 2005. In early 2006, Willis had seven of her hits featured in the Earth, Wind & Fire-themed musical Hot Feet, making her the first woman, and fifth person ever, to have written music for two shows opening on Broadway in the same season.
The Detroit-born artist and performer was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.
“Earth, Wind & Fire was my favorite group in the world, and [I was approached about] writing for a couple of groups [EWF’s] Verdine [White] was producing. He said, ‘I’m going to tell my brother about you.’ A couple of nights later, the phone rang, and it was Maurice White and it was an amazing conversation. He said, ‘Do you want to write the next Earth, Wind & Fire album with me?’ I went to the studio, and we started working on ‘September’ the very first day. What rhymes with ‘September’? ‘Remember’!,” she told Billboard in 2018 of writing the iconic song.
Her other hits include The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” and the Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield’s “What Have I Done to Deserve This.” According to her website, she has sold more than 60 million records.
Most recently, Willis had been co-writing new music with Detroit rapper Big Sean. This year, she was featured in the Motown Museum as one of six icons to have been influenced by the storied label.
The visual and social artist was also a painter, director, pop and soul kitsch collector, and one-woman stand-up comedian/sing-along performance artist. Willis was most proud to be recognized for her over-the-top party-throwing at her famously kitschy Pink Streamline Moderne house known as “Willis Wonderland” in Los Angeles.
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