Bette Midler Hosts Star-Studded Celebration of ’20 Feet From Stardom’

Bette Midler Hosts Star-Studded Celebration of ’20 Feet From Stardom’
July 31, 2013


Some of Hollywood’s most legendary singers and actors turned out at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City Tuesday afternoon to celebrate alongside host Bette Midler the success of the new top-grossing documentary of the year, “20 Feet From Stardom,” a film that tells the story of some members of an often-overlooked group of performers – the backup singers.

Among the stylish guests treated to cocktails and an intimate lunch were Susan Sarandon, Bernadette Peters, and two of the documentary’s stars: Darlene Love, who sang backup for the likes of Elvis Presley with the vocal trio The Blossoms; and Lisa Fischer, who won a Grammy Award for her debut album “So Intense.”

Ms. Love, who has been busy with a CD, book and now documentary release, spoke with Speakeasy at the luncheon. She said she thinks that now is finally her time to shine.

“It’s been a 30- to 40-year march, but I made it,” Ms. Love said. “This is my 50th year in show business and this movie is actually when people are really finding out about me.”

Longtime friend Ms. Midler agreed that credit was long overdue for backup singers like Ms. Love and the others in the film.

“To see this journey and to see it suddenly burst forth after all of this time, it’s fantastic,” Ms. Midler said. “Darlene is the poster child for it’s-never-too-late.”

The pair explained their friendship has been in the works for quite some time, with both of them growing up as singers in the ”˜Da Doo Ron Ron’ rock ”˜n’ roll era.

“I’ve never actually worked with Darlene because no one wants to go up against her,” Ms. Midler laughed. “I did induct Darlene into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I’d known her voice since I was in school, so to know that voice and to meet the person who is even more beautiful than that voice has been one of the biggest thrills of my life.”

Later during the lunch, the audience was treated to a live musical performance by both Ms. Love and Ms. Fischer.

“I’m singing ”˜Lean on Me,’ which is a song from the movie,” Ms. Love said. “And we’ve found out this song is really starting to tie people together. It’s about all of us backup singers as friends who struggled with our careers and we say ”˜it’s okay, honey, just lean on me and I’ll help you get as far as I can’.”

Broadway veteran Bernadette Peters, who just returned from performing with the symphony in San Francisco, agreed that it was about time the film’s stars get their praise. She offered up some advice for young women trying to make it in the singing world.

“The most important thing is to not copy anybody and to be original,” Ms. Peters said. “It’s about finding how you express yourself when you sing a song and not to be Taylor Swift – because we have Taylor Swift.”

Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon said she came to support her good friend Ms. Midler, and though she hadn’t seen the documentary yet, the actress was excited to hear the singers’ stories.

Ms. Sarandon also dished to Speakeasy that she’s had quite a busy summer, filming three movies including “The Last of Robin Hood” with Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning; murder-mystery “The Calling;” and Melissa McCarthy’s latest film, “Tammy,” in which Ms. Sarandon plays a grandmother.

“Every moment of working with Melissa McCarthy was hilarious,” Ms. Sarandon said. “And Dakota Fanning was lovely and really really special and she’s going to be great in this movie.”

The director of “20 Feet From Stardom,” Morgan Neville, said there were several unforgettable moments he experienced while working on the film.

“Being in a room that close and seeing somebody that talented sing is a spiritual experience,” he said. “So I quickly realized that the more I could get them to sing, the better. I just had to keep coming up with situations where I could just keep them singing.”

The director also confided that he’s currently working on a new documentary that will tell the story of Yo Yo Ma and The Silk Road Project.

“It’s about how music connects people in a way that society and politics can’t,” Mr. Neville said. “So basically saying music is the true international common denominator.”

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