20 Feet from Stardom

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This movie won the latest Best Documentary Oscar. We enjoyed it too. I'm not sure how it would go over with someone outside the Boomer demographic, but it resurrected a bunch of fond musical memories.

It looks at the world of the backup singer. Mostly female, mostly African-American. (Indeed, there's a bit of borderline reverse-racist slams at soulless white-girl singers. Oh well.) There's a lot of archive footage of performances and interviews, and a number of women are tracked down to what they are doing nowadays.

Shocker: Claudia Lennear, who was the inspiration for "Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones. Ex-Ikette. Performed and hung out with an array of superstars. Had a Playboy pictorial. What is she doing now? As the movie documents, she teaches Spanish in a dingy classroom. (Revealed after a bit of Googling to be Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut California, where she also teaches French, English, and Remedial Math.)

I believe I said "Whoa!" at this point in the movie. I did not see that coming.

Also appearing are other backup singers you've no doubt heard, if not heard of: Darlene Love, Táta Vega, Merry Clayton ("Gimme Shelter" would be unimaginable without her), Judith Hill, the Waters family, and more. Talking about backup singers: Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, Stevie Wonder, …

I was somewhat surprised by how eloquent and insightful most of these wonderfully talented women were revealed to be: not just on their own careers, but also the nature of the music biz, fleeting fame and fortune.

It's a tad long. That's my only microgripe.