20 Feet from Stardom: Now Deservedly in the Spotlight—Movie

When total strangers are discussing a movie at the movie’s conclusion, you know you’ve witnessed something special. Such is “20 Feet from Stardom.”20 Feet

Directed by Morgan Neville, “20 Feet from Stardom” is a documentary tribute to the indispensable backup singer. As Stevie Wonder so aptly puts it in discussing Ray Charles, “there would be a lot of uum… silence, uum…silence without the Raelettes.”

While an homage to all, the documentary follows primarily the careers of Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, the Waters Family, and perhaps the most famous of all backup singers, Darlene Love. These singers have worked with the best in the business and are heralded in terrific interviews with Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Sheryl Crowe (herself a one-time backup singer) and Wonder, just to name a few.

“20 Feet” explores what it takes to be a backup singer and questions why most remain in the background. Some singers have the determination to be a solo artist, but for a variety of reason which the film discusses, “it” just doesn’t happen. And when you listen to these ladies sing, you can’t help but ask, “why?”

Lisa Fischer is the only female to sing lead with the Rolling Stones on tour since 1989. Watching her with Mick Jagger, you can understand the reason. Their chemistry is amazing and, boy, can she sing. Although Fischer won a Grammy for an absolutely wonderful single as a solo performer, she remains in the background.

Claudia Lennear is now teaching Spanish, but hearing her sing in the documentary you wonder how this can be— I literally got goose bumps. Still, a successful solo career never happened for her. Merry Clayton also had her opportunities, but for whatever reason, her albums didn’t sell.

Judith Hill is the youngest of the featured group. She was all set to be part of Michael Jackson’s “This is It” tour, but his death ended what could have been a big break.  Footage of the two of them singing together is amazing. She’s currently trying to focus on a solo career, but as “20 Feet” shows, old habits and the need for food and shelter can get in the way.

Finally, there is what could be the most compelling story of all…that of Darlene Love. Love was part of the group, The Blossoms. The Blossoms were the first African-American background singers. What happened to them and then later to Love can be described in two words, Phil Spector. Somehow Love found an inner strength to pursue her dreams and is a true testament to the will to survive.

In an era of auto-tuning, we sometimes can forget what real voices sound like. “20 Feet from Stardom” makes us remember and appreciate.

4 nuggets out of 4


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2 Responses to “20 Feet from Stardom: Now Deservedly in the Spotlight—Movie”

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