On Dec. 22, Examiner.com had the opportunity to watch "20 Feet from Stardom," which will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 14, 2014. The 91 minute documentary, which is is rated PG-13 for some strong language and sexual material tells the story of the voices behind the greatest rock, pop and R&B hits of all time.
These voices are also knowns as back up singers. Director Morgan Neville shines the spotlight on the untold stories of such legendary background singers as Darlene Love (known for her hit “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home”), Merry Clayton (whose voice haunts the classic 1969 track by the Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”), Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear, Judith Hill and more. These are the triumphs and heartbreaks of music's greatest unsung talents, featuring rare behind-the-scenes footage, vintage live performances, and interviews with superstars Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder and Bette Midler. The film features rare archival footage of musical legends Ray Charles, Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross. Special features on the DVD and Blu-Ray include deleted scenes, Q&A with Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and director Morgan Neville, and Short Film: "The Buddy System." This month, "20 Feet from Stardom," was one of 15 Documentary Features to advance in 2013 Oscar Race.
On Dec. 20, Paul Shaffer and Thom Powers invited us to join Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill and director Morgan Neville for an evening of caroling and cocktails featuring musical performances by the cast in celebration of "20 Feet from Stardom" The filmmakers were joined by additional guests: Jill Abramson, Steve Buscemi, Peter Cincotti, Glenn Close, Richard Kind, Nanette Lepore, Jill Martin, Gretchen Mol, and Robert Wuhl. The intimate soiree was presented by The Peggy Siegal Company & RADiUS-TWC and featured Caroling & Cocktails at The Rum House at The Hotel Edison.
With knit wintery sweaters and grins, the crowd definitely fit in this cozy "20 Feet from Stardom" christmas caroling reception. Guests and friends swayed and snapped to the Christmas carols, while munching on Baked by Melissa cupcakes and hors d'oeuvres. After bellies were full and everyone was out of their coats, kind smiles and cheers received Judith Hill, Lisa Fisher, and Darlene Love, some of the film's protagonists.
The documentary displayed such a vulnerable and genuine side of these women, that once they entered the room, it felt as if everyone wanted to hug them and tell them how much they admire them. In person, these women were even more charming than in the film. With such a sweet approach to fans and people in general, the ladies were getting ready to sing together.
Everyone followed the singers to the first song, "Winter Wonderland," with cute song books. Then their voices turned angelical with an a Capella version of "Holy Night." Hill sang "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole, and by the time she was done, everyone had gotten over their stage fright and began singing joyfully to the popular "Jingle Bells." The next song was "Silent Night." When Fischer was singing, she improvised flawlessly the second verse, and Glenn Close popped out of a corner to give a friend a little holiday spirit and tell her the lyrics she couldn't remember.
Fischer has toured with The Rolling Stones since 1989 and she said she enjoys how when there is a mistake on stage, everyone works together to turn it into a positive unique experience of that performance. You could tell how at ease she was with the public improvising, just as she was in the old Rolling Stones concert clips.
"Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," was the next song. Richard Kind joined Darlene and the ladies for a funny version of it. Next, the group sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." After, Hill switched the mood to a softer delicate one with "Someday At Christmas."
The sweet caroling turned into a funky party with Peter Cincotti at the piano and a courageous guest with a marvelous voice, and a jazzy version of "All I want for Christmas is You!" One guest even danced for a few verses in front of everyone else.
After Cincotti finished with "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer," the piano man came back to finish the night with other classics such as "Feliz Navidad" and "Frosty the Snowman."
But what everyone was secretly waiting for was Darlene Love's performance of "Baby Please Come Home." After being introduced by saying that Love has performed this song for over 20 years on the Letterman Show, the crowd clapped and screamed to hear the legend sing.
In the film, Love explained how she and the Blossoms couldn't read music, but they could match the tone by ear. After she finished singing, everyone truly understood the power of her voice. Clearly she didn't need to read music to sing it flawlessly.
After the caroling ended, the crowd centered around the three talented performers of the night to congratulate them on all their accomplishments. From a Grammy won by Fischer, to a new record deal by Hill, and even a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entrance by Love, these women certainly deserve to be recognized as true stars.
Check out our exclusive interview with Judith Hill below:
Q: How was the experience of being part of "20 Feet From Stardom"?
Hill: I was truly honored that Morgan asked me to be part of the film. It was such a great experience. It took about two years of just interviewing me at home with my parents, going to my different concerts and following my story. I am truly blown away by the end results seeing it all come together and to come all the stories. It was truly awesome
Q: Did you know any of the other back up singers before the film?
Hill: Yes! I grew up with Tata Vega and she's friends with my family and she has always been an inspiration to me. Merry Clayton was friends with my dad, they grew up together performing. I just met Lisa Fischer and Darlene Love through the process and that was really awesome. They are all such incredible women and such an inspiration.
Q: What is your favorite Christmas song?
Hill: The Christmas Song.
"20 Feet from Stardom," will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 14, 2014.
Estefania Garcia-Correa contributed reporting.