I saw a phenomenal movie last weekend and have been thinking about its stars and message a lot since then. The film is about the women who have sung back-up for major recording stars and groups from Ike and Tina Turner to the Rolling Stones. It’s not a diatribe on the unfairness of it all; they were paid professionals enriching the work of the artists they performed for. Rather, it points out the chasm represented in the 20 feet between the stars and the underlings.
These women are vastly talented, courageous and hard-working. As Bruce Springsteen puts it, “The walk to the front [of the stage] is complicated.” Even though a few of the featured performers had solo albums, not one received the recognition or popularity of those they sang for.
One of the back-up women is Judith Hill whose huge opportunity evaporated when her singing partner–Michael Jackson–died unexpectedly. She was poised to be on the world tour he’d been preparing for prior to his untimely and tragic death. She said, “I thought if I gave my heart to what I was doing, I’d automatically be a star.”
Darlene Love, who got her due recognition in 2010 when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, quit the business for years out of frustration and disappointment. Only when she was cleaning houses (the woman sitting next to me let out an audible “NO!” when this was revealed) and heard her own songs playing on the radio as she mopped, did she determine to get back to her calling.
The line between success and the 20 feet behind it is wafer thin. Luck and circumstance are factors along with ambition, prejudice and sacrifice. If you’ve ever struggled in your own business trying to get seen and heard by a larger population, this movie will inspire and console you.
[BTW – for those who read my earlier post this week, the quote was from Condoleezza Rice.]