UW-Madison alum, songwriter Allee Willis, who did “Friends” theme, dies

Local News

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Allee Willis, a songwriter whose work included the Broadway musical “The Color Purple” as well as the theme song from the TV show “Friends” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” has died. She was 72.

The cause of death Tuesday was a cardiac event, her publicist, Ellyn Solis, told The New York Times.

The Times did not specify where she died, though she had been living in Los Angeles. The Associated Press could not immediately reach Solis.

Willis graduated from the UW-Madison School of Journalism in 1969.

The Wisconsin Alumni Association says, “We’ve lost an amazing alumna and true Badger. Her energy was boundless. We are so grateful that she shared her talents with the world. Allee was truly one of a kind.

Willis was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018 — more than 30 years after she won a Grammy for co-writing Patti LaBelle’s “Stir It Up” for the soundtrack of “Beverly Hills Cop.”

She was nominated for but did not win, Grammy and Tony awards for co-writing the music for “The Color Purple.”

She was also nominated for an Emmy for the “Friends” theme song, “I’ll Be There for You” performed by the Rembrandts but lost to the theme of “Star Trek: Voyager.”

She wrote hundreds of other songs, including pieces for Ray Charles, Sister Sledge and Cyndi Lauper.

“I, very thankfully, have a few songs that will not go away,” she told The Times in 2018, “but they’re schlepping along 900 others.”

Willis grew up in Detroit and was raised on the sounds of Motown, though she never learned to play music. She attributes her love for music to visiting Motown studios every weekend while growing up.

“I would sit on the lawn,” she told The Times. “You could watch everyone come in. But most importantly you could hear through the walls, which is how I became a songwriter.”

She is survived by her partner, Prudence Fenton.

WFRV Local 5 contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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