(2013) Back-up singers, predominantly African-American females, "blend and mesh with other voices" - "and the colored girls say do-do, do-do, do-do …" - and "take very little credit." The first African-American backup singers working in the studios were The Blossoms - Darlene (Wright) Love, Fanita James, and Jean King. They had a gift, a "love of music," for finding their part and harmonizing, which they learned from church, call-and-response, gospel songs, that became secularized and sexualized.
The lead voice on "He's a Rebel" by The Crystals is actually Darlene's. Along with the Waters family, if a major release had female backup singers, Darlene's voice was almost assuredly there.
From being one of the four ladies in The Raelettes with Ray Charles, Merry Clayton went on to sing - "Rape. Murder. It's just a shot away" - a duet ("a whole new voice out there") with Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones' song "Gimme Shelter." She's also in the background for Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama."
The incredible powerhouse voice of Lisa Fischer ("she's as good as it gets" and "a freak of nature") sings scat - her ghostly vocalizing on Sting's "Hounds of Winter" - emphasizing that it's sharing, not competition. "We come in and sing the hooks," says Janice Pendarvis. They sacrificed individuality to blend, producing a "transformative sound" as the music grew progressively more complex and sophisticated.
Among others, such as Tata Vega and Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear ("the really hot one of the Ikettes," who were eye candy, dancing in their skimpy costumes) made an attempt to come forward out of the shadows as a solo artist, but as Bruce Springsteen remarks: "It can be a pretty long walk," demanding energy, ego, narcissism, to the front of the stage.
A singer depends on a songwriter as well as someone who knows how to feature her voice and create a hit arrangement. Circumstances and luck, adds Sting, plus spiritual work to get there. Though she recorded three albums, believing if she put her whole heart and soul into the songs they would just soar her to stardom - "We did everything possible, and it just didn't take," admits producer Lou Adler - Merry Clayton's star didn't rise to the heights.
Director Morgan Neville interviews various recording artists (Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, Sheryl Crow, Patti Austin, Michael Jackson) and displays archival footage of performances (David Bowie, Luther Vandross, Concert for Bangladesh, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker) for a wall of sound and images.
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