20 Feet from Stardom (Documentary)

This weekend has been awesome. 

It started Thursday evening (Wednesday, if you count the debut of Yellow Belt).  The spouse and I went to see Meshell Ndegeocello cover Nina Simone songs at Rams Head Onstage which was amazing.  The next evening, we caught up with some great friends, and last night, we snuggled up and did one of our favorite things: order a movie with a side of popcorn and wine :-). 

We ordered 20 Feet from Stardom, a documentary chronicling the careers of some of the most prominent back-up singers in music history.  I highly recommend it.  Not only is it great for any music lover to reminisce about this country's awesome musical history, but it is also a eye-opening journey into just how influential back up singers have been to music.  Think about it.  When singing along to our favorite songs, we usually belt out the chorus, which is more often than not a catchy tune sung by a nameless but exceptionally talented back up singer.

Lisa Fischer, much less than 20 feet from Mick Jagger's stardom, hehe.
I was surprised to learn about the contributions of singers like Lisa Fischer (who had a pretty dope solo career in the 90s), Darlene Love (who did ghost vocals and pretty much sang backup for everyone in the 60s), Merry Clayton (who is responsible for the kick-ass vocals on the original Stone's hit Gimme Shelter), and former Ikette and Joe Cocker background singer (and Playboy Bunny), Claudia Lennear.  These women poured their heart and soul into the music and in some ways MADE those songs.  I was surprised to learn that they all had trouble transitioning to solo careers and despite their enormous contributions to the music, some of them left music for non-industry careers like housekeeping and teaching. 

The stories they told were fascinating.  Traveling with huge recording stars, late night recording sessions, inspired cyphers, crooked producers, and wild parties.  I watched with my jaw slack, completely in awe of all that they accomplished. However, despite my perception of their enormous success, they all yearned for more.  They spoke of disappointment and regret at having never accomplished their ultimate dream to be solo artists.  It reminded me of something Meshell Ndegeocello said at her concert Thursday night.  She told the story of how Nina Simone was rejected from an elite musical school and resented it for years.  Meshell chuckled, in that smooth way she does, and said, "I guess everyone has that thing that just fucks with them for the rest of their life."  Everyone laughed.  We all could relate. 

Darlene Love on the far right with Elvis and other background singers.
From the outside looking in, the woman of 20 Feet from Stardom led extraordinary lives.  They sang, they traveled, and they left their mark on this world.  Sure, I wondered why they weren't bigger stars.  I can think of countless stars (especially today) that don't have half the musical talent they did.  However, to me, holding the spotlight doesn't necessarily correlate to success.  Good music can make you bleed.  It can make you cry.  It can make you float.  Their sweet voices made the soundtrack of periods of humanity.  It's nice to watch a good performance but when I turn up my stereo, its only my ears I am looking to feed.  Their voices made us FEEL.  Whether we knew it or not.  You don't get much more successful than that. Brava, ladies on a life well-lived! And you guys looked cute while doing it!

Claudia Lennear and David Bowie

Love and Light,


  1. Hi Faye,
    I'm enjoying your blog! So, I'm sharing it with my followers, and I'm inviting you to participate in the Liebster Awards/11 Things Blog Challenge. The details are on my blog at: http://angiekozblogs.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/blog-challenge/. If you are interested in participating, I hope you enjoy the challenge! ~Angie


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