Twenty Feet from Stardom

Posted 10 years ago by myetvmedia

Director Morgan Neville’s documentary ‘Twenty Feet From Stardom’ is a heartfelt tribute to the talent, patience, and perseverance of backup singers (mainly black gospel women) and their quest for a rightful place in the spotlight.

I always assumed that background vocals belong to the group associated with the main star/artist. But in many instances the vocalist are hired to come in, lay down their vocal tracks and then move on to the next gig. In the words of David Casley, “As a background singer, they would like you to come in, make things sound great, take little credit and go home quickly”.

Neville makes his case through interviews with singers Merry Clayton, who has received much acclaim for her vocals on The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”, Claudia Lennear who has worked with many acts including Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, David Bowie and celebrated by Mick Jagger with his song “Brown Sugar”, and Lisa Fisher who performed backup for Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, Sting. Other past and present backup vocalists were included, like Lynn Mabry, Taga Vega, the Waters Family and Judith Hill who sang “Heal the World” at Michael Jackson’s funeral.

Morgan Neville gently suggests various reasons for their lack of fame but allows the viewer to arrive at their own conclusions. In the meantime we are treated to some of the best music of the 20th century. Providing us with insight into the role and importance of backup singers, many of whom have worked with musical greats: Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen. Many of these legends appear singing the praises of these disregarded talents. By and large, the chronicle is an uplifting tribute to the backup singers, their story is one of frustration, perseverance and ultimately joy. It’s amazing how essential their contributions to pop culture have been: which is the ultimate message of this wonderful film.


– Christophe Chanel

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