20 Feet from Stardom ★★★½

"Their songs are legendary, but they are 20 feet from stardom"

If someone were to ask you if you know who Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, or Judith Hill are you would probably have no clue, but I can guarantee you that you have heard their voices and hummed their music many times (and if you are too young to recall these songs, I guarantee you that the artists you listen to now have been highly influenced by their music). These talented ladies have spent most their lives singing in the background for such talented artists as Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Ray, Michael Jackson, and so on. Director, Morgan Neville, gives these ladies the opportunity to finally take center stage and share their testimonies and experiences with the audience in this fascinating and engaging documentary. There is just something uplifting about being able to listen to what they have to say and finally receiving some credit for their major contribution in helping shape music across the globe (beginning in the 50's with the Motown revolution). They may have never made it as leading singers, but the passion these women have for music transcends the camera and listening to their testimonies almost becomes a religious experience in itself. The film has some compelling interviews and uses archives really well to set the tone and take us through a history lesson in music. I also enjoyed the interviews with the famous artists like Stevie Wonder, Sting, and Mick Jagger who spoke very fondly of these women who have played an instrumental part in their music. It is hard to resist a documentary like this with such uplifting music.

Getting to hear the testimonies of some of these talented ladies was probably the highlight of this documentary, although at times some of the interviews really didn't seem to be going anywhere. At other times they raised questions that they sort of left out in the air and only scratched the surface instead of delving deep. The documentary was a bit uneven in that sense, but every time I thought I was going to get irritated by it, the music and the passion these people have for it brought me right back in. I can see how this film attracted Academy voters as it won for best documentary feature, but by no means do I think it was the best documentary of the year. It is good to give these ladies credit for their contribution to the music industry, but the documentary never feels groundbreaking. After Searching for Sugarman's Oscar win last year, this marks the second year in a row in which a music themed documentary wins the Academy's votes, and there has sort of been a shift in the voters from political themes aiming towards the artistic side. It was an entertaining and uplifting documentary and I am glad I got to know a little more about these women and understand the passion they share for music. The 90 minute documentary succeeds in giving these ladies a voice of their own and making the audience appreciate the work and sacrifice it takes to be a backup singer.

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