Singer/songwriter Judith Hill talks about meeting 20 Feet From Stardom director Morgan Neville, penning the film’s song “Desperation,” and being inspired by the other legendary backup singers in the film.
by Ada Tseng
[published on 1/28; the documentary has since won both an Oscar and Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature]
Earlier this January, 20 Feet From Stardom was announced as one of the five nominations for Best Documentary Feature at the upcoming 2014 Academy Awards, scheduled to take place March 2, 2014. The film, which was released in June 2013, takes a closer look at backup singers in the last few decades: names and faces we might not recognize, but voices we are all extremely familiar with — that is, unless somehow you have escaped exposure to classic songs from Stevie Wonder, Sting, Carole King, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles, Bette Midler, Luther Vandross and Tom Jones. Or if you’ve never heard the theme song to Growing Pains, the holiday song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” or Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Director Morgan Neville’s main interviewees are legendary singers, some of whom have had success as solo artists but others who were never quite able to cross into the spotlight. There’s Darlene Love, who started out as a ghost-voice for the 1960s girl group The Crystals and was finally inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011; Merry Clayton, whose voice might be most known for her duet with Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones’ song “Gimme Shelter;” Lisa Fischer, who earned a Grammy for her solo album in 1991 after years of background singing; and Tata Vega, who has recorded numerous gospel solo albums.
The ingénue of the bunch is Judith Hill, the half-black, half-Japanese soul singer who recently gained some mainstream attention through her exposure on NBC’s The Voice.