Sunday, August 11, 2013

Twenty Feet From Stardom

Featured on the cover is "newcomer" Judith Hill.

And the colored girls go 
Doo do doo, doo do doo, doo do doo

That lyric from Lou Reed's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" is the perfect introduction to Twenty Feet From Stardom — a documentary film that profiles and (at long last) gives credit to the predominantly African-American women who were (and still are) the amazing and outstanding back-up singers whose voices enriched popular music over the past six decades of rock-and-roll.

Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer, and Táta Vega, are not household names but once you meet them (and others) you'll recognize the sweet sounds of the harmonies they provided for Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Sting — to name just a few.

This film takes us on a journey through the great groups, the great singers, and the great songs of a rich musical past that is marred by the way in which these women were taken advantage of and by-passed despite their greatness.  And try as they might, none were able to breakout of the backup line and make it as a solo artist.  Sadly.

The day after I saw this documentary, as I flipped channels on my car radio, I heard Mick Jagger's "Gimme Shelter" and broke into a smile.  I now know Merry Clayton arrived in curlers at the recording studio for that gig and it is her voice belting out the lyric that made her cringe:

Rape, murder; it's just a shot away, it's JUST A SHOT AWAY!

In the film, we hear both Jagger and Clayton recount how in 1969 she received a call in the middle of the night to come record back-up for this new British group in town called the Rolling Stones. 

And did she ever.  

Merry Clayton's exhilarating voice made that vocal, imprinted that powerful and shrill refrain on your brain and helped make that Stones song a powerhouse of pleasure.  

Too bad "Merry" was credited as "Mary" on the album cover.

If you wanna give credit where credit is due, go see 20 Feet From Stardom at a theatre near you.  You'll be dancin' in your seat.


  1. Hello Denise,

    I saw the documentary a week ago and I agree with you completely. Let's hope that many people get a chance to see it before it disappears from the movie theaters.


    1. Thanks Jorge...and thanks for being such a loyal reader!