There’s a superb new indie film making the rounds that you just have to see. Twenty Feet From Stardom is the story of the women singers who make bands come alive and take a song way beyond the sheet music. This music documentary from director Morgan Neville and producer Gil Friesen lets us into the unique world of those incredible specialists known as background singers. I’ve met some good ones over the years; Luther Vandross, Lisa Fischer, Patti Austin, Ronnie Spector and Nona Hendryx. God, what voices. They truly are a rare breed. But at the same time, it’s a tough row to hoe. In the film Springsteen, Mick Jagger and Sting talk about the importance of these talented women to a group’s sound and in the making of hit records. Bruce adds to the drama when he comments about someone becoming a solo artist after she has been a back-up singer, “that walk to the front (of the stage) is complicated.” The sensational Darlene Love who has been burned so many times over the years says, “there’s a power to those women that stand on stage with these guys.”
Here’s a test for you. The next time you put on a Steely Dan, Stones, Pink Floyd, Clapton, David Bowie, or Stevie Wonder record, try to ignore the intensity and contribution of the back-up singers. It’s impossible, you can’t.
I haven’t sat in a theater in years where the crowd clapped and cheered at the end of a film. There I was the other night sitting and smiling, totally moved, and saying to my row mates “let’s see that again!” Check out the trailer.