For decades, backup singers have lent their voices to many of the most popular songs in music history — but received no recognition and little financial compensation.
A new documentary, “20 Feet From Stardom,” tells the true stories of backup singers with revealing interviews from the singers themselves, as well as Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen, who often uses backup singers, calls the profession “an unheralded position … that walk to the front is complicated.”
Darlene Love, a backup singer who started in the Motown era, admits that despite being featured on many of the most popular songs of the time, “It got so bad I started cleaning houses.”
Many musicians were used and abused by producers such as Phil Spector, who made sure that some backup singers’ attempts at solo careers proved futile.
Others, however, have successfully crossed over into stardom.
Emmylou Harris, Luther Vandross (who sang backing vocals for David Bowie), Whitney Houston, Sheryl Crow (who sang with Michael Jackson), and Dido are among those who started as backup singers.
The doc reveals the stories behind some of the most famous lyrics in history, such as how backup singer Merry Clayton, the woman singing “Rape! Murder! It’s just a shot away” on the Rolling Stones’
1969 hit “Gimme Shelter,” was dragged out of bed at midnight to attend the band’s recording session. If you listen closely, you can hear Mick Jagger saying “Wow” after Clayton roars “Muuuuuurder!”
The documentary, which has earned nearly $US5 million at the box office since its debut in January, is now available on OnDemand and Netflix.
We watched the film this weekend and loved it. Watch the trailer below:
David Bowie is well known for using backup vocals on his songs, check out a 1975 performance of his hit “Young Americans” featuring backup singers stealing the show:
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