[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00KH6JMI8][/pullquote] 20 Feet from Stardom tells the story of the oft-forgotten backing singers who have played an integral part in many of the greatest hits of all time and who still tirelessly support the headliner in both the studio and on tour from a stone’s throw away.
Consider how many times have you sung along to a hit song from the last 50 years and you will quickly realise that the hook you are singing is as likely to be the backing singers as it is the person who is credited with the record and garners all of the fame.
The first section of the film documents the history of the backing singer from the very early, mostly white chorus line style singers to a shift in the 60s lead by a new breed of mostly black female singers who rather than simply trotting out the lyrics as accurately as possible added some style that the artists of the day took to. The main recurring focus of the film is around some of these ‘pioneers’ of 60s backing singing in the shape of Merry Clayton, Darlene Love and Lisa Fischer. Whilst these names will be unfamiliar to most, the list of songs upon which they feature is genuinely staggering.
The many interviewees discuss life as a backing singer and perhaps unexpectedly, most speak without a great deal of regret at having spent their careers somewhat marginalised by their position on the periphery. Indeed to many the thrill of working with great stars seems to offset the fact that they never made it in their own right.
After charting the history the film does segue into the stories of those singers that tried to become lead singers in their own right, all of which ended in just about the same way with minor success and a dissolve back into obscurity. Again, whilst rueful of why things didn’t work out, most do not seem particularly aggrieved that they never became a big star and indeed some see it as a blessing in some ways.
At two hours the film could have perhaps benefited from having 10-15 minutes edited out as the last quarter does drag a little and there are a number of places where an ending would have been fine. This is a minor criticism however of an otherwise strong documentary which music fans will enjoy.