Monday, July 8, 2013

Women Who Sang

 #moviereview #twentyfeetfromstardom

Their voices fill the soundtracks of our lives, but often we don’t know their names. They are background singers and a few of them are the subject of a new documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. The film opens with Lou Reed’s iconic song “Walk on the Wild Side” featuring the refrain “And the colored girls go doo do doo, doo do doo, doo do doo....”  Indeed, many unsung black women voiced the most memorable background vocals in numerous hit songs spanning the past 50 years.  There’s Merry Clayton, who started off as a Raylette (a background singer for Ray Charles) and then went on to give a gut-wrenching vocal performance on the Rolling Stone’s song “Gimme Shelter.”  In the film, both Clayton and Mick Jagger recount the night Clayton, who had been called out of bed, came with curlers in her hair to record those powerful words, “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away!”   Also featured in the film is Darlene Love who was the centerpiece of music producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” in the 1960s. It’s Love’s voice you hear on “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from Spector’s 1963 Christmas album.  While some of these women had several brushes with fame, for example Lisa Fischer who won a Grammy for her solo work, the film also explores the challenges of the industry.  Love walked away from her stifling contract with Spector and started cleaning houses for a time before returning to her music career.  Claudia Lennear, who sang with Ike and Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones, and several others, left her singing career completely and now teaches.  And then there’s the young Judith Hill, a recent contestant on The Voice, who is trying to work her way from the background into a solo career.  Along with these women’s individual stories, 20 Feet From Stardom also includes interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Stevie Wonder.  And then, of course, there’s the music which is powerful, especially those scenes which feature Fischer performing.  Her singing will touch you to the core.  Indeed, any of the singers who appear in this documentary could be, and probably have tried to be, marquee acts. Even if main stage stardom is elusive, these background stars deserve their due.  Bravo. 



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