Allee Willis, Songwriter of Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘September’ and Friends Theme, Dead at 72

Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images for Songwriters Hal

Grammy-winning songwriter Allee Willis, known for her work with artists like Earth, Wind & Fire and for co-writing the Broadway adaptation of The Color Purple, has died at the age of 72. Variety reports that she died in Los Angeles on Tuesday of cardiac arrest. The Detroit-born artist was famous for writing enduring hits like “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” for Earth, Wind & Fire. She also wrote songs like Patti LaBelle’s “Lead Me On” and the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance.” Willis won a Grammy in 1986 for the Beverly Hills Cop score. She won her second Grammy in 2016 for Best Musical Theatre Album for The Color Purple, which had earned her a Tony nomination during its original run ten years prior. She was nominated in 1995 for writing the Friends theme song, “I’ll Be There for You.” In 2018, Willis was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. On her website, Willis wrote that the Friends theme was a “real struggle to compose” because she was “used to writing lyrics that are funkier and not so plain sounding.”

In 2015, Willis spoke out against Donald Trump using her song “You’re the Best” from The Karate Kid at his campaign rallies, telling the New York Daily News, that “this guy’s mouth would get us into a nuclear war in three seconds,” but conceding that the song fit him: “”It’s all about bravado and fighting. And Trump is the giant who comes and stomps on the village. I can see why he picked it.”

In addition to songwriting, Willis was a visual and performance artist who began exploring multimedia, interactive and eventually web art through her alter ego, Bubbles the artist. In 1993, Willis and her partner Prudence Fenton began working on a proto-social media platform called “willisville” that Willis calls “the first interconnected social network in cyberspace.” willisville led to collaborations in the 1990s with Mark Cuban and Intel. Her flash art made her a Webby honoree in 2008. In 2009, she opened the Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch in Los Angeles to house and exhibit her extensive collection of kitschy ephemera. According to Variety, Willis had been collaborating on an upcoming project with Big Sean. Following the news, Willis’s friends and admirers have paid tribute on social media.

Friends Theme Songwriter and Artist Allee Willis Dead at 72