20 Feet From Stardom - 8 stars out of 10
“20 Feet From Stardom” is an eye-opening look into the voices that you’ve always heard but never realized were there. The back-up singer seems to have faded into the background, but throughout the 1950’s, -60’s, and -70’s, these voices determined the sound of a band or singer. While many of the stories in this documentary are sad, they define the rock and roll generation. The transition from clean-cut white singers to soulful black singers changed the sound of rock through the likes of Darlene Love and Merry Clayton. As you listen to songs like It’s In His Kiss, Feelin’ Alright, and Gimme Shelter, it is hard not to avoid the realization that the back-up singers are the reason that we love these songs. This documentary chronicles the stories of how these singing back-up led to success but hindered the solo careers amidst these singers. While singers like Táta Vega have enhanced singers like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, it has also put them into a box. The unfortunate stories of these singers are mixed with the success of singers like Lisa Fischer, who still tours with The Rolling Stones as a background singer who enhances the band by sometimes taking the spotlight. This documentary shines a spotlight on a side of rock and roll that is undervalued but entirely fascinating. There is even some Disney trivia tossed in there as we learn that the “The Waters” have sung back-up on just about everything that you have ever heard, notably the African singing in “The Lion King.” It is no surprise that this film is nominated for an Oscar and, while it will inevitably lose to something focused on politics, I am glad to see it earning some extra attention.