Darlene Love performed “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” for the 20th year in a row Thursday night on the David Letterman show, with musical director Paul Shaffer and his band. Then she hotfooted it to the Rum Room at the Edison Hotel at West 47th Street for some caroling and cocktails to celebrate the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” in which she stars with Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill.
Directed by Morgan Neville, the documentary looks at pop music by focusing on the previously unheralded backup singers, whose voices are in the background but essential to the sound of a song.
Most of these women in the film are unknown except for Love, who sang in a string of 1960’s Phil Spector-produced hits for which she received neither proper credit nor financial remuneration. For a long stretch of time, she earned her living by cleaning houses until she returned as a singer some decades ago. And although Hill and Fischer are not household names, their voices are a major ingredient in recordings by the Rolling Stones, Sting and Bruce Springsteen, to mention a few.
To hear these three women come together to warble, especially in such an intimate space, was hitting the Christmas jackpot. The evening was all about celebrating the season through the joy of music.
Click on the photos for larger views and sharing options. All photos by Paula Schwartz.
In his introduction before the singing began, Mr. Morgan said this was the most “personal film” he had ever made.
“Meeting these women, I started to see parts of myself in their story,” he said. “There’s a sense of pride in their craft, the sense of the work being its own best reward. Having done documentaries for 20 years, I understand a lot of that.”
He told Fischer, Love and Hill, “I have to thank these incredible ladies who changed my life … I just want to keep hanging out with you guys.”
After he finished taping his show at the Ed Sullivan Theater, Paul Shaffer headed straight to the piano at the Rum Room, where he crowed, “I just came from the Letterman Show, where Miss Darlene Love knocked it out of the park, once again, with her fabulous number, ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).'”
And although she wasn’t crazy about singing the song without her band, he added, she launched into a spirited rendition anyway, for a crowd that included Robert Wuhl, Richard Kind, Paul Haggis and Steve Buscemi.
An unexpected highlight of the evening was an impromptu performance by Glenn Close, who has a beautiful voice.
Other highlights were Lisa Fischer’s touching and fabulous rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with Robbie Kondor on piano. (Ms. Fischer will soon be working with the Rolling Stones again on their next CD.)
The youngster of the trio, 29-year-old Judith Hill, who is touring with Josh Groban, sat at the piano and sang a bluesy number that mesmerized the crowd. She also did a terrific job on the Nat King Cole classic “The Christmas Song.”
30-year-old Peter Cincotti, a singer-songwriter who came just as a guest, sat at the piano and led the women in a lively version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas in You.” The three women also sang “O Holy Night!” which was soulful and beautiful.
Director Morgan Neville, who followed the women around for years for his documentary, stood only two feet away, rapt and smiling as they performed.
Earlier in the evening, he told me of making the film, “Every time I was with them and they sang, I just had a smile plastered on my face. I was constantly coming up with excuses to get them to sing. ‘I’d say, how does that harmony go?’ Or, ‘Hey, can you sing that melody?’ I was constantly prompting them because I loved hearing them sing.”
Everyone lucky enough to be at this soulful and gorgeous evening of performances by this trio of singers knows exactly how he felt. No one wanted the evening to end; it was a perfect way to kick off the holidays.
Peggy Siegal and RADIUS-TWC presented the unforgettable event.
Be sure to pick up a copy of the “20 Feet From Stardom” DVD, which will be released Jan. 14, 2014.