20 Feet From Stardom
In almost every song, there is buried deep into the mix a strong, backing vocal which enhances the melody, sometimes single-handedly lifting the work into the stratosphere.
Professional backing vocalists in general are a pretty unassuming lot, extremely talented artists who often lack the writing ability or the drive or the dumb luck to become stars themselves.
Many of them are far better singers than the artists for whom they work, adorning their creations with their own flashy styles and having the humility to works as part of the team, not as the one in charge.
“It’s a bit of a walk,” Bruce Springsteen says at the opening of this film, “from back by the drummer over here. That walk to the front is complicated. Singling background remains a somewhat unheralded position, you know? People make that leap. It’s almost more of a mental leap than just the physical act of singing. It’s a conceptual leap. If you can comfortably come up with it, then you may find a spot out there.”
20 Feet From Stardom takes a look at four singers who have spent years trying to make that leap – though the film also speaks with dozens of others who are in similar positions. The extremely talented women (and a couple of men) who make up the bulk of 20 Feet From Stardom have all played a part in some of the most memorable music of our lifetime, however with very few exceptions most people (other than music geeks like me) have never heard of them.
However, that relative obscurity does not make their musical contributions any less staggering. Thus, director Morgan Neville has decided to give them their time in the sun with this touching documentary.
As 20 Feet From Stardom is receiving video release, it has also gotten a well-deserved nomination for an Oscar for Best Documentary.
The four singers that 20 Feet From Stardom highlights are girl group pioneer Darlene Love, 60s funk singer Merry Clayton, the amazingly versatile 80s vocalist Lisa Fischer and a newer artist named Judith Hill, who looked to be courting stardom when she was picked by Michael Jackson as his duet partner on the aborted This Is It tour.
Most of these women grew up singing in the church, and as such learned to be part of a team – singing for the whole song, not just the glory of the solo.