The unsung vocalists of Twenty Feet From Stardom | Film Review | Indy Week
Pin It

The unsung vocalists of Twenty Feet From Stardom 

Jo Lawry, Judith Hill and Lisa Fischer in "Twenty Feet From Stardom"

Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC

Jo Lawry, Judith Hill and Lisa Fischer in "Twenty Feet From Stardom"

There's both joy and sadness in watching Twenty Feet From Stardom, a rousing yet melancholy tribute to the background singers whose harmonious voices are all over 20th-century popular music.

A favorite at this year's Sundance Film Festival, as well as this year's Full Frame doc fest in Durham, Morgan Neville's film is nirvana for people who want to see unsung heroes finally tell their story. Most came straight from the church, where they were gospel-singing pastors' daughters whose joyful noise-making tendencies slid into pop songs.

In the movie's telling, it all began with West Coast trio The Blossoms, led by a teenage Darlene Love, whose waggling hips and soulful vocals helped make them an in-demand trio. Singing on everything from Frank Sinatra tunes to that novelty hit "Monster Mash," Love and her crew led the way for other gals to get studio time. The most divalicious of them is Merry Clayton, a former member of Ray Charles' Raelettes who became Mick Jagger's notorious duet partner on the Stones' "Gimme Shelter."

Clayton credits Brits like the Stones, Joe Cocker and David Bowie (who had a then-unknown Luther Vandross do backing vocals on his Young Americans album) for giving their backup singers freedom, encouraging them to bring out the blackness these Englishmen openly copped for their music. Still, being a backup to appreciative Brits wasn't enough—these singers wanted to make it big back in the States.

This is where the sadness comes in. As talented as these ladies were, their moments in the spotlight were usually dimly lit affairs. It's obvious that being black and female in the music industry—any entertainment industry—usually does not make a successful pairing. Some would say it could handicap you.

Joyous, uplifting, melancholy and nostalgic, Twenty Feet From Stardom is a stunning salute to the singers who stay in the background, but whose talents can never be contained there.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Stealing in the shadows."

Tags:

Film Details

20 Feet from Stardom
Rated PG-13 · 90 min. · 2013
Official Site: twentyfeetfromstardom.com
Director: Morgan Neville
Cast: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Tata Vega, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler

Trailer


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for 20 Feet from Stardom

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Film Review



Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

The lobster is arbitrarily asinine, disjointed, and gratuitously violent towards both humans and former humans that "didn't make it." If …

by Marco_Polo on The Lobster Surreally Skewers Society’s Fear of Single People (Film Review)

The only peeople who murdered those boys were let off by an inexperienced prosecutor and hoodwinked judge. The facts are …

by Greg 1 on The West Memphis Three are free ... what about the real killer? (Film Review)

"Miles Ahead"... "opening Friday".... where? I'm having a tough time finding film times/locations on www.indyweek.com now. The …

by Tbone on Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis Film, Miles Ahead, Isn’t a Real Biopic—It’s Something Better (Film Review)

Actually, many evangelicals and other Christians would not agree with the notion that "if you are a true believer you …

by bsquizzato on Film Review: Christian Movie Miracles From Heaven Goes Where Secular Hollywood Won't (Film Review)

Comments

The lobster is arbitrarily asinine, disjointed, and gratuitously violent towards both humans and former humans that "didn't make it." If …

by Marco_Polo on The Lobster Surreally Skewers Society’s Fear of Single People (Film Review)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

© 2016 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation