Watching "Twenty Feet From Stardom"
Published on July 16, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new documentary "Twenty Feet From Stardom."

Here's an excerpt:

"During my vacation, my dad and I worked on a crossword puzzle together in which one of the clues was 'hit song by The Crystals.' I’m not too familiar with the oeuvre of The Crystals, but eventually I figured it out: the hit pop song 'He’s a Rebel.' After watching the new documentary 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' I’ve decided that the crossword puzzle needs to be corrected. The lead vocals for 'He’s a Rebel' were actually provided by a woman named Darlene Love.

Love is one of the many backup singers featured in 'Twenty Feet From Stardom,' an entertaining documentary that shines the spotlight on some of the greatest, yet largely unheralded, backup singers of all time. I confess: Even though I love music, I’d never really given backup singers much thought. Which was clearly a mistake. Without backup singers, many of the greatest songs in rock history simply wouldn’t be that great. '20 Feet From Stardom' did something I didn’t think was possible: It made me hear classics such as the Rolling Stones’ 'Gimme Shelter,' David Bowie’s 'Young Americans' and even Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 'Sweet Home Alabama' in a completely new way.

In addition to featuring great music, 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' also offers a sharp critique of race and the music industry without beating viewers over the head. We can see that these little-known backup singers with terrific voices are mostly African-American women: Merry Clayton, who sang with Ray Charles and Elvis Presley and is best known for her duet with Mick Jagger on 'Gimme Shelter,' Tata Vega, who has sung with Stevie Wonder and Elton John, Lisa Fischer, who tours with the Rolling Stones and Sting, Judith Hill, who was set to go on tour with Michael Jackson when he died and is now trying to make it as a soloist, and, of course, Love."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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