by: Janice Malone
Morgan Neville’s internationally acclaimed documentary, 20 FEET FROM STARDOM is now playing at the classic Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, TN. This film is a MUST-SEE for everyone but especially for those who aspire to be in the music industry. The documentary tells the story of famed backup singers like Darlene Love and Merry Clayton and their life walking the line between solo careers and backing up higher-profile stars. To spotlight Nashville’s wealth of talented singers, the Belcourt Theatre will host three post-screening Q&A featuring 10 Nashville-based background singers who have toured the world with leading artists in every genre of music. The first round of post-screening discussion with local backup singers took place this past Sunday night immediately after the film. Amidst a near capacity filled Belcourt, the audience was excited to do a Q&A exchange with singers: Vicki Hampton, Robert “Bob” Bailey and Kim Fleming who spent many years as Wynonna Judd’s longtime backup team of singers; and Wendy Moten, who has sang background for Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Eric Clapton, Joss Stone and done duets with Michael McDonald and Julio Iglesias. The documentary which has already won numerous awards at some of the world’s top film festivals, which includes Sundance
The 20 Feet From Stardom film is a juxtaposition of interviews with industry legends (Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger) and the background singers who supported them, including Darlene Love (the un-credited lead voice on some of Phil Spector’s most memorable productions of the 1960s), Merry Clayton (the bone-chilling BGV on Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”), Lisa Fischer (Sting, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin), and the Waters Family (Michael Jackson, The Lion King)….
Even though the film specifically takes an unprecedented look at the personal journeys of these uncelebrated artists and pays tribute to their indelible role in popular music, Nashville is literally bursting at the seams with background singers who are equally as talented as those featured in the film. The local background singers at the film’s screening were nearly moved to tears at the beauty and accuracy of how the movie depicts and pays homage to the lifestyle they’ve all experienced for the last 20 years. “I thought the film was excellent,” says Wendy Moten. “It told the true story of the overall spectrum of what we go through as singers. There comes a peak of opportunity in our careers as background singers. That peak may fizzle but the gift doesn’t fizzle out.” Vicki Hampton readily agrees. “I love the idea that someone took the time to give recognition to people like us. The movie was just so touching. It made me feel so inclusive to be part of this unique club of special singers, so to speak.” And Robert Bailey added, “I’m so glad this film shows the world a behind-the-scenes look at what we do. We’ve worked our tails off over the years! For me, the take away is that it shows what happened to those particular singers in the film. But I’m looking forward to one day seeing a film about us—the background singers who live in Nashville because it’s a lot of us out here in this city.”
Each one of the featured session singers all agree that Music City is not for the novice, weak “wannabe” singers out there. “The quality of singers and musicians in this city is impeccable. They still expect for singers to REALLY have great vocals – and they’re not playing,” says Wendy who got her first break singing with Michael Bolton at a benefit concert; after signing with EMI, she released an album and opened for Bolton on tour. Vicki Hampton warns, “In this city a singer needs to know how to sing, know how to vocalize and you better know how to do it all quickly or you won’t be called back again!” “Yes, there is no on the job training in this business or this city,” adds Bob. Both Vicki and Bob Bailey are featured in a powerful YouTube video with Wynonna, singing the classic song People Get Ready, which was recorded during one of her recent tours. To further speak of memorable moments, at the conclusion of Sunday night’s screening, the Q & A moderator (Janice Malone) asked this panel of amazingly talented singers, to treat us to an unrehearsed closing song. In less than two minutes, Bob Bailey led this cast of gifted voices, as they harmonized and delivered a portion of Bill Wither’s classic “Lean on Me” that left the Belcourt crowd standing on their feet for more. To catch the viewing times for 20 Feet From Stardom visit the film’s website at: www.twentyfeetfromstardom.com Don’t miss it!