20 Feet From Stardom [REVIEW]

Merry Clayton

The new documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom, introduces us to the backup singers for some of the most famous faces in music.

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom is a film that puts the backup singers into the spotlight, and deservedly so.

We meet a woman who is perhaps one of the most famous backup singers of all time: Darlene Love. Love had a chance to break out from the background and step out as a lead singer, but was thwarted by a controlling producer who kept her in the background due to a long-term contract she could not get out of. Love, a very happy woman who is full of life, has sung behind heavy hitters such as Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, and Sam Cooke. Love is most famous for being part of record producer Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound,' providing lead vocals for many top hits, yet receiving little or no credit for them. Love even wound up being a housekeeper at one point in her life to make ends meet.

Lisa Fischer, also featured, is new to the backup world. With a voice as powerful as Mariah Carey's, Fischer, who has toured with the Rolling Stones, is praised in the film by Sting as a backup singer who can break into the the big time. Fischer does have a Grammy for one of her solo albums, yet she is still an unknown outside the music industry.

Puerta Rican Tata Vega was signed by Motown in the 1970s as a solo artist, and released several albums which didn't sell well, so she never really made it as a solo artist. She was relegated to the world of backup, where she has remained throughout her career.

Other featured backup singers include Judith Hill, who was booked to back-up Michael Jackson on his "This is it" concert, but instead found herself singing at Jackson's funeral; The Waters family, who have recorded background vocals for Paul Simon, Patti Labelle and Donna Summer; and Merry Clayton, whose voice graces the Rolling Stone's "Just a Shot Away."

20 Feet from Stardom is a fascinating, well-done documentary, and no doubt once you get home you will Googling to learn more about this talented group of musicians.