Monday, July 8, 2013


What does it feel like to be 20 feet from stardom? Ask me – I am a visual artist who is familiar with the waves that crest and then come crashing down. Oh yes the fickleness of nature and the vicissitudes of acclaim, glory and celebrity! 20 FEET FROM STARDOM directed by Morgan Neville gives us the back-story on the back-up singers for many superstars from the 1960’s to today. This film focuses on the mostly African American women who gave depth, sparkle, glamour (with style and swagger,) and musical resonance to the performances of Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Luther Vandross, Sting, and David Bowie among others. But who are these women? Do we even know their names?

The documentary, 20 FEET FROM STARDOM introduces them to us by giving a NAME to the voices – giving a life story to those who have been blotted out. We are made privy to often exciting, exhilarating and heart-breaking narratives through archival film footage and biographical accounts that divulge the years of hard work these professionals endured honing their craft. And we see them today revealing the alterations that time doth inflict on us all. In the early years, many of these gorgeous singers were “scenery” for the guys up front OOOhing and AAAhing in perfect harmony, wearing tight clothes that accentuated shaking, fluid hips while they bellowed out an orchestrated range of tones “behind” the Maestro. But they were much more than “eye candy” – they were integral to the fire and spirit that drove the audiences into a frenzied state at jam-packed concerts.

Each one of these women has a history – a long history with the world of music and the artists that they have been associated with. We meet Claudia Lennear, Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, T├íta Vega, Judith Hill and the Waters Family, etc, as well as Sheryl Crow who sang back-up for Michael Jackson early in her career We get glimpses of how these individuals were treated, ie: Darlene Love by Phil Spector who would not let her out of her contract and stalled her career for years.  In contrast, Luther Vandross was incredibly generous to those who worked with him such as Brooklyn born, Lisa Fischer who I was particularly attracted to. She garnered the respect and admiration of those who sang with her, and to this day at the age of 55 shares lead vocals with Mick Jagger and is still singing back-up on all the Rolling Stones tours. Fischer has a beautiful smile, a wonderful, natural and hopeful way of talking about her experiences. Yes she and her voice got to me!

Personal reminiscences, life dramas and struggles are delineated. Each woman has forged her own path; each woman has had her ups and downs.  Success is ephemeral and the most penetrating thing that they can do for themselves is to sing loud and clear, giving expression to the intensity and breadth of the joy and sorrow that springs from one’s inner, profound self.

As an artist I try to remind myself of this everyday.

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