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20 Feet From Stardom

Written by on July 30, 2020

Story by Chuck Tackett

20 Feet From Stardom

“I reject the notion that the job you excel at is somehow not enough to aspire to, that there has to be something more. I love supporting other artists. Some people will do anything for fame. I just want to sing.”

Lisa Fischer, re: Being a backup singer

A few weeks ago, I reported to you all about the new Netflix movie starring Jorge Garcia titled “No One Knows I’m Here.”

It dealt with the controversial tactic of a performer’s physical appearance being more important than their singing ability, especially during this age of music videos. Music producers have gone as far as using a physically appealing singer to stand in and lip-sync the former mentioned performer’s voice, thus lying to the public.

With all the numerous cable channels, it is very easy to get way behind on music and series. What may be several years old, is new to the viewer. That is the case with me.

The other night I watched this Netflix documentary called “20 Feet From Stardom.” I thought it was recent, but I found out later this documentary was made in 2013. On March 2, 2014, it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards; an Oscar, in my opinion, that was well deserved.

Millions of people know their voices, but they don’t know their names. This documentary pays tribute to these unsung heroes of the music business. It was so sad and unfortunate how some crave stardom, but it never happened. It was comforting to know some backup singers think like Lisa Fischer She is quite content in her role of supporting other artists with her voice as a backup singer.

What I found disgusting is that talented 1970s era singer TaTa Vega never made it to stardom. She felt that those in power decided she was not physically appealing enough, despite her voice.

Besides the 1990s era singer Lisa Fischer, the only other background vocalist I was familiar with was the 1960s era singer Darlene Love. She spilled the tea on the 1960s era producer Phil Spector, revealing he did a “Milli Vanilli” prank to the audience back in that era. I thought that was something new when the group Milli Vanilli and their producer were busted for having them lip-sync other much lesser-known artists’ voices back in the 1980s.

Some of the music legends who made commentaries were Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Bruce Springsteen. It was revealed that, while American artists wanted backup singers to blend in and assimilate, British artists wanted the backup singers just to be themselves, even if it means they outperform the star, showcasing their singing ability.

Some of the commentators’ remarks had me feeling vindicated. It is no secret that I have felt that some of the music starting in the mid-1990s, up to the present, sucks because of computer- enhancing voices and computers taking the place of real instruments. Some people have been pissed at me for saying that. Some of the music these days does not have the warmth, the richness, of real voices singing, behind real instruments.

One of the commentators expressed music used to have a budget for hiring backup singers. Now it is done mostly by computers. That budget item, he now says, is called “tuning.” He had to ask since it was unfamiliar to him.

Another commentator mentioned that some of today’s singers think that they can win on shows like “The Voice” and think they have arrived to instant stardom. He further commented that kind of fame is very short-lived. They have to put in the work.

If you have not seen “20 Feet From Stardom,” it will surely open your eyes to how difficult it truly is to make it in the music business. The stars of “20 Feet From Stardom” are backup singers from (left to right) Darlene Love, Tata Vega, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, and Lisa Fischer. They gave a well-balanced insight into being a backup vocalist if that is something you want to pursue.

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Reader's opinions
  1. Starla Carr   On   July 30, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    Another fabulous article! These record executives are wrong for treating those singers like that. I’m glad there are other platforms for artist now.

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