The African American church fan collection of Allee Willis

church fans

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently visited my multi-talented friend Allee Willis. We hung out in her incredible home recording studio in Los Angeles which is chock full of fun and interesting things, including an Italian bowl from the 1950s stuffed with African American church fans. I didn’t know the existence of “church fans,” so I asked her about her collection and this is the story she told me:

“The fans date from the 1940s through 70s. I always collected these but the collection stepped up when I got the gig to write The Color Purple musical. Every few months Alice Walker, the author of the Pulitzer prize-winning book, would fly to LA and hear new songs we had written. She’d sit in a vintage 1950s office chair in my studio rocking back-and-forth with her eyes closed fanning herself as she listened, slowly moving the fan back and forth in time to the rhythm. My favorite part of the presentation was always giving her the bowl with fans and letting her choose which one she wanted.”

How great is that?!

The story doesn’t end there though. She has written about her church fan collection a couple of times on her own site, including what James Brown did with them. Click here to check the other stories out.

church fans

Also, be sure to check out “The D” which is Allee’s latest project. It’s described as a “record, video, and documentary about the human spirit as exemplified in the people of Detroit” and, if you have the means, I highly suggest donating money to help make this very cool project happen (click here to make a donation).

photos by Allee Willis