In the new documentary “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” we hear the stories of singers that everyone’s heard whether they know their names or not. The doc showcases background singers, those vocalists, most often women, who support the star in front. From the Ikettes to the Raelettes to countless women whose names are not household ones, “Twenty Feet From Stardom” details their often challenging lives close to but not completely in the spotlight.
One of the most compelling stories in the doc is that of Brooklyn-born background singer Lisa Fischer, who sang for Luther Vandross and still works with the Rolling Stones. At 54, She is one of music’s best-known background singers and what makes her story unique is that she’s quite happy in that place. Despite winning a Grammy for her solo hit “How Can I Ease The Pain” in 1992, unlike Merry Clayton, Darlene Love and Judith Hill, also profiled, Fischer is content in the background.
“It’s an individual walk. A lot of background singers just really enjoy the blend and enjoy being in the room with other singers. I love it. Even as a child before I started singing for money, I just loved listening to my parent’s records and loved the background,” she told the Tom Joyner Morning Show. “I’d listen to it and figure out the harmonies and I just loved how they would sing together. I don’t know what that was about for me, but it was perfection for me….I don’t like being by myself.“ Clayton, who was a Raelette and Darlene Love, a part of Phil Spector’s famed Wall of Sound are both shown in their decades-long struggles to achieve solo stardom. Love has the most success, re-booting her solo career in her 40’s after a break with Spector and starring as Danny Glover’s wife in the popular “Lethal Weapon” movies.
Judith Hill, who sang with Michael Jackson, among others, was further frustrated in her solo aspirations when she was dismissed from “The Voice.” Hill’s early departure from the show led to judge Adam Levine famously saying “I hate this country.” It is Fischer, though, whose stunning talent if largely unheralded outside of music industry inner circles, is at the center of “Twenty Feet From Stardom.” There is a breathtaking sequence where she’s just scatting and while it underscores how truly gifted a vocalist she is, Fischer has no ambition beyond supporting other singers. She likes her privacy and anonymity although the festival success and release of “Twenty Feet From Stardom” is likely to threaten that.
“Twenty Feet From Stardom” opens in theaters on Friday, June 14th.