Singing Backup Documentary, “Twenty Feet From Stardom” is Heaven

singing backup documentaryAs a back-up singer, lounge singer, showroom singer, studio singer, and singer in a Broadway show, I knew I would love this documentary. And like the women showcased in this film, you probably wouldn’t remember my face or name from singing backup.

This documentary, Twenty Feet From Stardom, showcases a few, very few, woman in song… back-up singers behind many Stars. The vocalists who ‘Sing the Hook’ … the phrase you hum, incessantly, after you leave the concert.

“Back-up vocalists sing the repeat lines. Without those, half the song is missing!”

Stevie Wonder – Twenty Feet From Stardom

Jessica with Tata Vega at a HAIR cast reunion

Jessica with Tata Vega at a HAIR cast reunion

We meet some great singers. I’ve had the good fortune to work with a few of them. Tata Vega was a fellow cast member in ‘HAIR’ in the late 60’s and early 70’s. She is a tiny thing with a huge voice.

Tata and I reconnected at a HAIR reunion, just a few years ago. She was just as sweet and just as humble as ever. I have been to many of the HAIR reunions, and this is just the second time I’ve seen her.

Why? Because she is constantly working. Tata is one of the most sought after back up singers, currently touring with Elton John.

Her career has a rich history. She sang with her own bands, working with three different record labels.  Her story is both moving and heartbreaking.

Tata Vega

Tata Vega

What we don’t learn about Tata in the film is that she is a mom to a beautiful daughter… whose father  was the love of Tata’s life. Sadly, he died of cancer years ago, and she has had to carry on without him.

Signed to Motown Records at very young age, Tata’s budding career was shelved, largely passed over for other artists, much as I was, at age 14, with Capitol’s World Pacific Jazz label.

We get to meet and hear three women who sang lead with The Rolling Stones, not all at once, but consecutively.

Merry Clayton was the first. She is very famous in musical circles and recorded a string of three solo albums. She comes across pretty confident and cocky, and has the chops to back it up, so her attitude is understandable and easy to forgive.

Following Merry with Mick Jagger was the very sensual, and beautiful, Claudia Lennear, Now in her early sixties, looks like a housewife, or just anyone with a day job,

Claudia Lennear

Claudia Lennear

But back-in-the-day, Claudia was featured in a Playboy Magazine spread. Other than that, she is quite coy about being the sexy one. She didn’t set out to be THAT One. (Oh… she was one of the Ikettes with Ike & Tina Turner)

You may find that hard to believe when you see pics of her, and her album cover pose. It seems that Claudia just didn’t have the ego to become famous. It takes a certain toughness, that Tata and Claudia do not have.

Lisa Fisher

Lisa Fischer

Lisa Fischer is the third singer with Mick, and she simply blew me away.  When I got home from the movie, I ordered a CD of hers from Amazon.com.

She was just stunning and sexy as anything. OMG, the tight skin-tight spandex, and make up and hair. An excellent choice to take over for Claudia.  She is only in her early fifties, and is still a killer singer, but looks so different. Lisa has been with the Stones over 20 years and  you are glad that the band has loyalty and has not replaced her!  The business can be so cruel… but not this time.

Lisa sings with David Foster and Chris Botti, and is probably the only one  that didn’t have a family.  She thinks about it, and is not sorry about it.  She chuckles about the fun she has, and no regrets about a family and no kids!

A lot of the film covers Darlene Love, who is probably the most familiar name. But you will be surprised how fleeting fame can be, and how she struggled. She is 70, now, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame only recently, in 2011.

At times, Twenty Feet From Stardom was painful for me to watch. I have been in their shows, so at times it is highly personal.  I have had highs and lows, and survived to still be a working for singers. This film gives us an inside look at the business side of Show, and the unsung heroes of the stage.

You will hear great music, you will hear from thoughtful musical wisdom from mouths of Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Mick, and a contractor for singers Bill Maxwell

They all agree with me, these woman are worth a lot more than the attention they get.    

‘Twenty Feet from Stardom’ is a 90-minute musical history lesson disguised as a movie. Entertaining, touching, thoughtful. It will give you fresh appreciation for the singers you see and hear, and a clearer understanding of their craft and careers.

This movie is so good… you might even thank me!

Jessica Marciel
Las Vegas Vocal Training

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