Movie Review: 20 Feet From Stardom

I’ve wanted to see this film since it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary this year and Darlene Love sang “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” for her acceptance speech.

It did NOT disappoint.

The movie is about the chasm that exists between the backup singers and the star. It may be 20 literal feet but it might as well be to the moon and back. What makes an incredible back-up singer is counter-productive to being a star – and the film explores this reality with some of the best back-up singers that have ever existed.

Just take a quick quiz and sing 10 of your favorite songs prior to 1990. What are you singing? You are singing the hook or the chorus that was predominantly sung by these back-up singers. You won’t recognize these names – Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton, or The Waters Family – but you will immediately recognize their voices as they were practically on every single hit record starting in the 1960’s to the 1990’s. Some are still singing today into their 70’s and 80’s.

Two huge things stood out in the film – the first one is how back-handed and superficial the entertainment industry is. This is exposed quite well as many of these singers had their voice recorded then “given” to other artists on records. Many of the artist talk about how for some labels – it didn’t matter how well you sang, it mattered how you look.

But the other HUGE point of the film was the role of the Church. It is astounding how many of these singers came out of the church. Some of the world’s greatest singers talk about how they look for back-up singers with a church background because they bring “something special” to the studio when they sing.

And when these ladies cut it loose…it is something special. Sting, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, and Bruce Springsteen have cameo roles and huge insights on these ladies. You won’t forget Lisa Fischer either as she sings with both Sting and Mick Jagger. I realized as I listened to her sing – SHE’S the reason I love Sting – no offense to Sting – but it’s her voice that draws me in and makes it all work.

Loved this film.

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