Twenty Feet From Stardom

Opens Friday, June 28
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1hr 29mins // directed by:Morgan Neville

You may be unfamiliar with names like Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear, and Judith Hill, but you would likely recognize their voices.

In this eminently hummable documentary, filmmaker Morgan Neville (Respect Yourself: The Staxx Record Story) showcases the invaluable contribution of backup singers to popular music.

The documentary explores the history of music for the last five decades by presenting the stories of a handful of background singers that spanned those eras. Many of those profiled are female vocalists who began singing in church, where the choir’s collective sound and harmony are of the utmost importance. The concord of voices is the central goal, meant to elevate the music to a spiritual plane. These singers helped impart this sensibility to popular music through their work with numerous popular artists, many of whom are interviewed—among them, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Bette Midler.

Those relegated to providing supporting vocals are often misperceived as inferior vocalists. Twenty Feet From Stardom proves again and again through raw tracks that these are powerhouse singers whose vocal talent often exceeds that of the artists that they back; often, mere quirks of fate impeded their quests to step into the spotlight. In some cases, these performers bucked our culture’s emphasis on the individual, preferring to put their egos and aspirations for superstardom aside to dedicate themselves to “the blend.” Still others continue quests for recognition.

Twenty Feet From Stardom acknowledges and celebrates these unheralded artists. By the end, you will be familiar with their names and work and will never forget their indelible, sonorous contributions.

Film synopsis courtesy of IFFBoston

 

The Boston Globe

"20 Feet From Stardom may possibly be the happiest time you’ll have at the movies all summer..." - Ty Burr