Starring Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill
While waiting for the screening of Oscar winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, I saw that Lethal Weapon 3 was playing on in-built televisions on the wall of the venue. Being a huge fan of the buddy cop series I was charmed yet baffled as to why the film was playing but thought nothing of it. The film starts by focusing on the impact African-American female singers had on Pop music and the first backing singer superstar…Darlene Love who also plays Danny Glover’s wife in the Lethal Weapon films. Coincidence…maybe but this notion is reflected in the overall theme of the film in terms of having limited knowledge about someone who has contributed to something you are so fond of without one really knowing who they are.
The film mainly focuses on Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fisher and their trail and tribulations they have experienced from singing with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Sting, Michael Jackson and Ray Charles.
Most of the singers have religious backgrounds, growing up singing in choirs for their fathers, who were also preachers, which is almost parallel of the singers singing back-up to stars with a father-figure type of role. While all were very successful and well established in the music industry, the one thing they strived for was a successful solo career. Viewing archive pictures and footage of the singers belting out complicated harmonies alongside Stevie Wonder and David Bowie, one can’t help but wonder why these singers did not get more recognition.
Hearing the singers talk so candidly about the politics of the industry, and having just plain bad luck makes quite a sad tale. However, the audience roots for these unheralded singers due to their uplifting attitude and positive sense of humour which the director Morgan Neville captures effectively by using perfect timing of stock footage relating to what the singers are discussing and spending a limited amount of time talking to the stars.
Most are just happy because they are getting to do what they love…sing. 20 Feet from Stardom serves as an informative insight into the unfairly overlooked heroes of the music industry.