I finally got to see this movie tonight. I don’t know why it took me so long. Maybe it was the fact that I had just lost my backup singing gig when the movie was released, so it would hit a little too close to home, or maybe I just lost track of it… whatever the reason, a year post release, I finally had the opportunity to catch it. So I did.
So many emotions evoked between the opening and closing credits. It was inspiring, and angering, and ultimately heartbreaking…
The movie takes a look back at the beginnings of the phenomenon of the “back up singer” revolution, highlighting the stories, ups, and downs of the unsung heroes who brought the iconic soundtrack of our lifetime to life. Featuring Darlene Love (!!) Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer (her voice is other worldly) Tata Vega, and The Waters family, this movie will make you want to applaud spontaneously after some of the footage, laugh out loud, cry, hit someone, and ultimately hug and thank each one of these spectacularly talented and resilient women.
I “got it”, as one would after having had a once successful music career and watching it fade.
I’ve often said that I would have loved to have been a back up singer for a big act. As much as I enjoyed being up front, I’ve always found solace off to the side with my fellow crooners, ooh’ing and ahh’ing in the shadows. It’s fun as hell, there’s less pressure, and there is an electricity when the harmonies hit just right…
I remember when I saw Luther Vandross in concert in 2001, I was about 5 rows from the stage, directly in front of the back up singers. They came out to their marks in the dark, and “hit” their poses as the spotlights caught them. The hair on my arms stood on end. I was all at once mesmerized and jealous. They were living large. They were living the dream. They were living my dream.
Two of my favorite on-stage experiences were as a back up singer. The Legends Tour, where I got to sing back up in a concert set up for the likes of Cher, Neil Diamond, Reba McIntyre, Roy Orbison, and Tina Turner. (that was my personal favorite) and then the most recent lost gig, singing back ups for an Elvis impersonator for a couple of years.
I also get such a thrill doing session work and back up tracks for other singers. Then it’s just about the music. The pure joy of using your instrument, unfettered by the pressures of the industry to conform to a certain look or style or size.
But back to the movie…. and those amazing, AMAZING, women, with their glorious voices, who came up with the hooks that we all take for granted as we subconsciously sing along when any song from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s plays… who ventured out of the dark safety of the row of mics in the corner, 20 feet from stardom, to center stage, and watched their work and their dreams fade through no fault of their own… Some merely ventured back into the shadows, some walked away all together (which is a crime)
If you’re a singer, you must watch this movie…
If you’re not a singer, you still must watch this movie, even if it’s just to appreciate the talent and blood, sweat and tears that went into the iconic music we grew up with, and then to realize the bullshit that passes for music and “talent” by today’s standards. They were the trailblazers, they deserve to have their stories told.