My friend asked if I wanted to go to the movies? I’ve been living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for two months writing and filming a new online course for musicians and needed a night out.
The movie in question was ‘20 Feet From Stardom’, a documentary about the lives of the backing singer. Here’s why you need to see it…
You see there is an elite group of singers (mostly women) who sing backing vocals on ALL those albums you love. You’ve likely never heard of them…Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, Patti Austin, Merry Clayton, Tata Vega.
Their story is the story of the music industry. You’ve got Claudia Lennear, who toured with the Stones and posed in Playboy. Claudia got her own recording deal with Warner Brothers but couldn’t handle the stuff you have to do as a solo artist and now teaches Spanish in a local school.
Bruce Springsteen says that it’s a long walk from the back of the stage to the front – he’s right.
Steve Wonder tells us that success in music depends on so much more than talent – you also need hustle, ego, the right people at the right time and a healthy dose of luck.
For me what moves someone twenty feet from the back of the stage to the front is a certain killer instinct. You have to want it AND know what you are willing to give up to make it happen.
Finally there are two things I really love about this documentary. The first is that it reaffirms how powerful the human voice is. I lost count of the number of times I got goosebumps hearing the singers in this movie as they stretch for notes and create heavenly tones.
Secondly this film stands out because it celebrates the back room boys and girls of the music industry. It shines a light on the professionals.
So here’s to the backing singers. The chameleons. The grafters. The unsung musical heroes.
As Bob Lefsetz says: “The point is made that we at home, in our cars, don’t sing along with the stars, but the background singers. They’re doing our part.”