Backup singers take center stage in new documentary film

Fri Jun 14, 2013 3:30pm EDT
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By Andrea Burzynski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger appear in the new film "Twenty Feet from Stardom," but only to shine the spotlight on the unsung backup singers who make them sound even better.

Opening in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and expanding across the United States in coming weeks, the music documentary features the lives and careers of singers who have harmonized with the likes of Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and many more.

The film features singers who sang on hit tracks beginning in the 1960s, like Merry Clayton and Darlene Love, right up to today, such as Judith Hill, a recent contestant on television singing show "The Voice."

Springsteen, Jagger and others talk about their work with the backup singers as their tracks play in the background, but the film focuses on the backup singers. The film shows them singing in a studio, whether harmonizing or taking the lead, and talking about their experiences.

American director Morgan Neville said he made the film because he became intrigued by their stories and found that even within the music community very little was known about them.

"It's not the last word, it's the first word," Neville said in an interview. "I didn't want it to feel like an anthology, I wanted it to feel like a narrative."

Most of the backup singers are African-American women who began singing in church at a young age. While some were content with supporting roles, others aspired to solo stardom.

"I always knew I wanted to be a singer, it was just, how we gonna do this?" said Clayton.   Continued...

Singer Bruce Springsteen and the E-street band perform during their concert at Telenor Arena in Oslo in this picture provided by NTB Scanpix April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Stian Lysberg Solum/NTB Scanpix