Twenty Five Feet From Stardom - Background Singers Documentary
Twenty Five Feet From Stardom follows a half dozen of the most powerful back-up singers in music history, each of whom has a story to tell and a remarkable history in the shadows of superstardom. They represent a range of styles, come from all eras of popular music, but each singer belongs to the first family of American voice. Their stories echo one another and build upon common themes: sacrifice..., triumph, humiliation, bold stabs at stardom, and, through it all, the thing that has kept them going: the glory of going after and achieving that perfect blend of harmony. The ”blend”, a human experience that each and every one of these unforgettable men and women describe in spiritual terms, as a transcendent moment of connection between people.
But alongside the stories of personal triumph and tribulation, these characters reveal the secret history of how American popular music has drawn its emotional strength and musical power from the black church. Through their stories and through their voices, we see how American music and, finally, American life have been touched, changed, and elevated by the voices of faith coming from the margins of our society. As if arriving in a Trojan Horse, and against all odds, the sacred song of black America came into the country’s living room and found a permanent place there. And it was the back-up singers who brought it.
These stories reflect the big ideas of the 20th century and after–the struggles of women, of African Americans, the expectations placed on gender and image, and the shifting sands of the music business. As popular music came to play an increasingly significant role in American life, these singers came to symbolize something that, until now, few have been able to put their finger on. Those voices back there, often cloaked in darkness but cutting powerfully through it, have for decades embodied some hope we hold for ourselves, that our voices, too, will emerge and matter.
Some of the singers that will be featured in this documentary are Darlene Love & The Blossoms, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Patti Austin, Tata Vega, David Lasley, Cissy Houston, Charlotte Crossley, Arnold MucCuller, Edna Wright, Gloria Jones and Claudia Lennear just to name a few.
Also interviewed were Mick Jagger, Sting, Bette Midler, Bruce Spingsteen, Sheryl Crow, Chris Botti, Judith Hill and Lou Adler.
I want to see this. I'm always amazed when I see background singers soldiering through when each of them is better than the artists out front. Would I want to sing behind Bobby Brown or Britney Spears?
I wonder whether they're frustrated with this knowledge or consider themselves blessed to be paid to do something they (hopefully) love to do. I'm hoping the film answers these questions and more.
Agreed. If it wasn't for The Young Sisters, "Little Town Flirt" would sound really flat.....
I once blogged that when an artist is listed on record labels, is shouldn't read "Joe Blow", but "Joe Blow and a bunch of really talented people you've never heard of before".
I gotcha, Doug. One of the true injustices of life (in my opinion) is that there are so many truly great musicians and singers who only perform at local venues due to the breaks that they get in life. They might be too short or overweight for A&R guys to want to promote. They might know too much to be ganked around by producers. They might be too old...
Consider, Roy Orbison wears those glasses because some asshole told him that his eyes were too close together for him to be successful. What a shame to popular music if he had given up.
Brother Love always continues to carry the torch for the groups and background groups. "Those voices back there..." I want to see this one too. It's about time a lot of these people got the attention and recognition some of them have long deserved.
My problem with this is just about every one of the singers listed above has seen some kind
of recognition in one way or the other over the past 25 years. I will probably see this at some
point but I can think of a dozen singers who I guess I'd have to call 50 feet from stardom. People who if their names were tossed out at a Grammy audience the whole damn crowd
would say "WHO?....." I know these singers here think it's time they got their egos stroked
but right now I'm following a singer who used to sing back up for folks like Al Green but who's building a career of her own...
Who is the singer who sang for Rev. Al? Chalmers, Rhodes and Chalmers sang on most of his HI recordings. I wonder if he will remember her?
I get your point though Splank. There are many lingered in the background like Ullanda McCullough, who sang with Ashford & Simpson and Wylene Ivy who sang for Aretha.
Last edited by Kamasu_Jr; 12-01-2012 at 02:37 PM.
Dang, I would have done better to mention her name, Kam. It's Catherine Russell though
I have to say she probably wouldn't be to the likings of most on the forum as she's
chosen to ground her career in the Blues...
There are a lot of background singers that I feel that should be recognized, but when you only have maybe an hour and a half to tell a story there is only so much that you can do. I’m just glad to see that that background vocalist in general are finally get their due. The Sundance Film Festival must have really liked this film to use it as the opening feature for next year’s festival. Oh by the way I hear that The Waters were also interviewed for the film.
There is also a concert being planned at Sundance to celebrate the premiere of the film that will include Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer.
This sounds great. Always been fascinated by background singers. Barbara Alston of the Crystals hated singing lead and wanted La La up front!! Is say Patti Austin and Cissy and of course Darlene have made it to the front!
Check out Director Morgan Neville's "Meet The Artist" interview about the up coming documentary "Twenty Feet from Stardom" which has been chosen to open the Sundance Film Festival on January 18th.
For a real deja vu experience (akin to many of those Japanese edition lp lyric translations that were lacking ,and at times comical) turn on the English automatic captions option while listening, and read along!
Originally Posted by brother_love
Legendary A&M Records exec Gil Friesen told filmmaker Morgan Neville where he received his idea for the film "Twenty Feet From Stardom."
Friesen, with his wife, was in the audience of a Leonard Cohen performance several years ago. When the show began, Friesen smoked a joint, and then found himself musing about Cohen’s talented back-up singers — who they were and what their lives were like.
Months later, he called it "the most expensive joint I’d ever smoked," as he bank-rolled the Neville-directed documentary that is the opening-night film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Sadly, Frieson died last month on Dec. 13.
"Gil was an amazing guy," Neville said in a phone interview. "He was a real gentleman in the music industry. He was the ampersand in A & M music."
But amid all of the mourning, there is a light. "He knew that the film had gotten into Sundance, and he was thrilled," Neville said. "His wife, family and friends are coming."
Shining a spotlight on under-appreciated musicians was an integral part of Friesen’s life, so it is poignantly appropriate that his final labor of love was a film that feted the most under-appreciated musicians in the industry: back-up singers.
"[Friesen] came on all the shoots," Neville said. "We talked every day."
It was Friesen’s connections that helped Neville, an award-winning filmmaker who was last at Sundance for his film "Troubadours," a documentary about the nascent singer-songwriter movement in southern California in the early 1970s. (Neville’s other productions include HBO and The Rolling Stones’ "Crossfire Hurricane" and Cameron Crowe’s brilliant "Pearl Jam Twenty" retrospective.)
Bette Midler, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder and Sheryl Crow all submitted to interviews for the film, but the real stars are back-up singers profiled in the film. In an aside, Neville said some of the back-up singers he talked to were happy to sit down and talk with them, but never wanted to be shot.
"That doesn’t happen in our culture," said Neville, still amazed at the restraint in a world where everyone wants to be on film in their own reality series.
But those who did talk included:
• Merry Clayton, who sang on Carole King’s "Tapestry" and Lynryd Skynyrd’s "Sweet Home Alabama," and is most famous for being featured prominently in The Rolling Stones’ frightening powerhouse "Gimme Shelter."
• Lisa Fischer, who currently tours with The Rolling Stones and has sang for Sting and Chris Botti.
• Judith Hill, who was booked to back-up Michael Jackson on his "This Is It" concert series at London’s O2 Arena before Jackson’s death. She ended up performing as a lead vocalist in Michael Jackson’s memorial service, with an estimated one billion people watching her sing "Heal the World."
• And, not least, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love, who before an acclaimed solo career was a member of the Blossoms, who sang on dozens of Top 40 tracks in the 1960s and was an important brick in creating Phil Spector’s famous Wall of Sound production style.
"[Spector] always did things to stop my momentum," said Love, 71, in a phone interview, who was so important to Spector that he threatened her livelihood if she ever left his studio.
Love said she is approached all the time by various people who approach her to have her participate in film projects. She usually responded, "Oh, this is cute. Where is this going?" before politely declining.
She had the same blasé reaction when she was approached by the filmmakers until Dick Donner (director of "Superman: The Movie" and the "Lethal Weapon" franchise, in which she portrayed Danny Glover’s wife)and Lou Adler (record producer, manager, director, owner of the famous Roxy Theatre, and usually seen at Jack Nicholson’s side during Lakers games) convinced her to take a meeting with Friesen. When she talked to Frieson, she realized that this was an important project for an important man, and decided to sit down for interviews.
"[Griesen] didn’t live long enough to see the fruit," Love said.
"Twenty Feet From Stardom"
Jan. 17, 9:30 pm, Eccles Theatre, 1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City
Jan. 18, 9 a.m., Temple Theatre, Located on Highway 224, Park City
Jan. 18, 9 p.m., Sundance Resort Screening Room, North Fork, Provo Canyon, Sundance Resort
Jan. 19, 3:30 p.m., Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway (300 South), Salt Lake City
Jan. 21. 11:45 a.m., Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., Park City
Jan. 25, 8:30 p.m., The MARC, 1200 Little Kate Road, Park City"Twenty Feet From Stardom"