Last week Johnathan Ferrell had a horrible car crash. He broke out the back window to escape and walked, injured, to the nearest home hoping for help. Ferrell may have been too hurt, too in shock to remember to whistle Vivaldi. Ferrell is dead.
Social psychologist Claude Steele revolutionized our understanding of the daily context and cognitive effects of stereotypes and bias. The title of his book alludes to a story his friend, NY Times writer, Brent Staples once shared. An African American man, Staples, recounts how his physical presence terrified whites as he moved about Chicago as a free citizen and graduate student. To counter the negative effects of white fear he took to whistling a classical music piece by Italian composer Vivaldi. It was a signal to the victimless victims of his blackness that he was safe. Dangerous black men do not listen to classical music, or…
The other day I had some free time, so I went and saw “20 Feet From Stardom.” I’ve been wanting to see the documentary after reading good reviews online:
The film tells the story of the backup singer. You know, the folks that provide the harmonies/hooks of your favorite songs. The little known secret is that many of these background singers, tend to be black women. The music industry has been built off the bodies/voices/talents of black women. The film focuses on Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear, and Judith Hill:
It’s a great film. You will dance in your seat, laugh out loud, and even cry. All of the featured women are hella talented/fun personalities. You wonder why they never made that 20 feet. Well, actually I do know why. As one of the singers noted (I think Darlene Love), she believes she had a hard time having a solo career because“there was already an Aretha.” Therein lies the problem of the black female singer. The film was directed by Morgan Neville, a white man. While he does touch on some historical moments that helped shaped the music industry, he glosses over how racism, sexism, and colorism affected these women’s careers.
While there can be many white women singers in the spotlight (Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Adele, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, etc.), there can only be one black female singer, at a time. The racist music industry does this on purpose. They know if they didn’t keep black women singers marginalized, black women would dominate the music/entertainment scene. We can’t have people seeing beautiful, charismatic, black women sanging their azzes off, now can we? Just think, this film doesn’t even scratch the surface of black women backup singers from back in the day/now. These women have had a major impact on the way lead singers (usually white men) sang their songs, wrote their songs, ad libs, etc. They tend to bring the energy, creativity, and soul to the music industry.
The film does interview the white stars that the women sang backup for. It includes folks like Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, etc. Personally, I thought these men could’ve been left out of the film. I know their inclusion was an opportunity for them to give props to the women, that contributed to their careers, but white men always get to speak for “colored” women. These women can shine on their own…
But these mishaps, don’t ruin the film. The film provides insights of the life of the backup singer. It also gives them the respect they deserve. So, I can’t be mad about that. I definitely recommend this film.