Singers come out of the shadows at Sundance
05:00 AM, Jan 25, 2013
PARK CITY, UTAH — “Some people will do anything to be famous; other people just want to sing,” says backup singer Lisa Fischer in 20 Feet From Stardom.
And then others just want to hear those unheralded singers belt out a tune.
Audiences jumped to their feet and several yelled for a song following the world premiere of Twenty Feet from Stardom, the rousing documentary which played on opening night of the Sundance Film Festival.
“This film rocks,” shouted out an audience member following the screening.
The uplifting film about the lives of back-up singers, directed by Morgan Neville, elicited a prolonged standing ovation and much excitement when three of the featured singers went up on stage following the screening.
Merry Clayton, a back-up singer for Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones and Ray Charles, remarked following the film: “I didn’t know I had such a big mouth!”
When she opened it to sing Billy Preston and Dennis Wilson’s You are So Beautiful, the audience went wild.
“You documented some beautiful ladies who worked very hard for a very long time,” she told Neville.
Also featured in the documentary are singers Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Claudia Lennear and Judith Hill. Vega and Hill were on hand for the Sundance premiere and also sang for the audience.
“I’m still asking people to pinch me to see if this is really real life,” marveled Vega, who now tours with Elton John, as she stood on stage.
Several of the featured singers will also performs in a concert Sunday night at Sundance House.
“I came in on Darlene’s shoulders and Judith came in on my shoulders,” said Clayton about Hill, who sang back-up for Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.
Hill had been at Sundance last year with the debut of Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer, whose soundtrack she performed on. She said she was inspired by the documentary. “It’s given me so much hope and encouragement for my future” Hill said.
The film pays tribute to the unsung heroes willing to stay in the shadows and offer support. As back-up artists reflect on their careers and love for singing, Neville shines a light on the conflicts, sacrifices and rewards of their harmonic convergence.
“What I realized very quickly is it was a family,” Neville said. “If somebody gets sick, 10 back-up singers give them a call. So much of our celebrity culture is about me and I and one’s ego. This is all about disappearing into a greater whole.”
20 Feet From Stardom features some of the catchiest and most memorable refrains, riffs and hooks sung by background vocalists, and tells the personal stories of some of the best voices in the business. It intersperses rare archival footage with the comments of the musical stars they sing with, including Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Sting. But in this film the stadium-filling rock stars play second fiddle.