So much of the divine and powerful pop, rock and soul music of the last 50 years has been made unforgettable by the backing vocals of the women celebrated in “20 Feet from Stardom.” Morgan Neville’s excellent Oscar-winning documentary shines a much deserved spotlight on the vital voices of women (and men) in the music industry, sharing their inspiration and heartbreak navigating a business where they work with and stand a hair’s breath away from the most famous in it without realizing one tenth of the recognition for their superb talents.
Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear, Jo Lawry and Judith Hill are among the performers showcased, as well as Luther Vandross, who got his start as a back up singer. “20 Feet from Stardom” is moving in part because of its insights into the psychology of the back-up performer versus that of a star. Not everyone possesses the drive or ego to make that walk 20 feet forward to stand — and stand out — alone. Most of us in the film and music industries likewise stand “20 Feet from Stardom.” Often, the reason has little to do with talent and more with luck and the vagaries of the business itself, as you’ll see from learning the stories of the film’s particular subjects. Darlene Love, for example, had her career deliberately sidelined by Phil Spector.
There is no doubt that these performers’ talents are other worldly. You will not regret spending 90 minutes getting to know these women. Not to mention the added benefit of re-hearing some of the most famous music of the last fifty years in a new way. The unique contributions of Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Claudia Lennear, for example, made the music of The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Sting (and more) unforgettable in unexpected ways.
The other gift of “20 Feet from Stardom” is that is celebrates the beauty of the human voice and the joy in creative expression, leaving glitz and ego outside the door. Not to be missed!
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin. #1 on Amazon’s Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.
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