I just watched a great movie this week. It is called “20 Feet From Stardom.” The film details the currant lives of some of the greatest backup singers the music business has ever known. The film centers on several people; Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton and Darlene Love.
Lisa has been the #1 backup singer for the Rolling Stones since 1989. I first met her on the Steel Wheels tour, and we became friends. (I proposed marriage to he almost every day- she always just laughed). Several years later, she won a Grammy for best Female Soul performance. She started out as a backup singer for Luther Vandross and went on to work with the Stones, Sting and many others.
Merry Clayton is best known as the female voice on the Rolling Stones song “Gimme Shelter.” She got the call to sing one night and rushed to the studio in her pajamas and her hair in curlers and blew the band away with her voice and intensity.
I recently photographed Darlene Love at the City of Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, and it was worth standing in freezing cold for an hour to hear her sing one song! Her story is amazing. From Phil Spector recording her band “The Blossoms” doing “She’s a Rebel” and then having it released under the name “The Crystals” and having them perform it on tour, although it wasn’t recorded by them.
She performs “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on the Letterman show every year at Christmas. She remembers, while trying to support her family, hearing that song on the radio, when she was cleaning a bathroom at some rich people’s house.
There are many other singers interviewed in the film, including:
Cindy Mizelle Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen
Mabel John Original Raylette
The Waters Family Jacksons, Whitney Houston, Thriller.
Claudia Lennear Ikette, Rolling Stones
Judith Hill Michael Jackson, The Voice
It is interesting how many singers have crossed paths with the Rolling Stones. I remember Cindy from the 1989 tour, and from seeing her backstage at a Boys to Men show.
Claudia Lennear (the inspiration for “Brown Sugar”) is an amazing story. One of the greatest singers on the planet, she is now a Spanish Teacher at a high school in New Jersey.
Next time someone tells me about a “great” singer recording today, I am going to suggest that they watch this film, to see what a real singer sounds like!!!