Darlene Love. Tata Vega. Merry Clayton. Lisa Fisher. What do these four artists have in common?
For starters, they possess some of the most wondrous and rapturous voices ever captured on stage and on record. But they also share one thing: they made their mark behind the spotlight as backup singers for some of the great pop/rock legends of today such as The Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, and Lynyrd Skynyrd to name a few.
20 Feet From Stardom, which won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, has got to be hands down one of the best documentaries of music I have ever encountered. It gives us a close eye view of the very people that made these records shine. These artists were classically trained, got their start in the church, and eventually spread their wings backing up such historical artists that their careers are set.
What this film also shows is the hardships they go through and the choices that they make while being a backup artist and eventually trying to spread their wings as a solo artist. We see how the underbelly of popular taste, record executives, and record labels would not take further chances of such talented backup singers since it is not just about the voice, but about the package. Some of these singers are even better than Whitney, Mariah, or Celine combined, but they are not given a chance because the pop music world is a vicious cycle of what can be “packaged” and “marketed” to be acceptable to the public.
For instance, backup singer Lisa Fisher, who sings for the Rolling Stones and Luther Vandross, has tried her hand at a solo career and even won her first Grammy award as a result. But her record company stopped working and producing her sophomore release since the numbers “didn’t sell”.
Darlene Love is an inspirational story in which she got her start singing backup vocals for Phil Spector’s records, and since she didn’t want no part of Phil’s control anymore, she was out of work and ended up back in the church and cleaned houses for a living. Then while cleaning a house, she got back into music after hearing her own song on a clients bedroom radio, prompting her that she needs to sing and pursue a solo career for the rest of her life. Not only she saw success, but also landed a movie deal and regular appearances on the late night talk show circuit such as David Letterman and Jay Leno.
20 Feet From Stardom, from start to finish, is a soulful and uplifting look at true talent going against all odds to make it in the cutthroat world of the music business, while not sacrificing their integrity and character in the process.