She may not have sported a big hat while belting out Pharrell’s Oscar nominated song “Happy,” but all eyes were on “20 Feet From Stardom” star Darlene Love when the film’s team took the stage to accept the Academy Award for Best Documentary.
The Morgan Neville-directed doc centers on the rich world of music’s best backup singers — talented performers who often toil just outside the spotlight and rarely get the kudos (and, yes, the awards) they deserve.
The film premiered to plenty of love at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and its awards-season run has been similarly rewarding: Neville’s doc won a slew of accolades, including a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Documentary Feature and a place on the National Board of Review’s list of Top Five Documentaries, before topping off its run with an Oscar. And along the way, Love herself has become one of the film’s most dazzling stars.
But just who is the enchanting songstress who captivated both the film’s audience and every single person at tonight’s Oscars ceremony when she expressed her joy in the best way she knows how — through stirring song?
The 72-year-old singer first started out belting out jams in her local church choir in Southern California, before being picked to join the Blossoms. An all-girl group that never quite hit the big time, the gals did, however, work with legendary producer Phil Spector during the height of his creative output in the early 1960s.
Love and the Blossoms can be heard singing backup on such well-known songs as Shelley Fabares’ “Johnny Angel” and a slew of other Motown covers, though the group itself tried to make their own way by belting out jingles for various products.
Although the Blossoms didn’t “make it,” Love soon became a hot commodity in recording studios around Hollywood, and the early part of her career saw her powerful chords popping up in songs by such massive talents as Elvis Presley, Dionne Warwick and the Beach Boys.
As is detailed in Neville’s doc, Love’s apparent big shot — a single called “He’s a Rebel” — was unceremoniously snuffed out when Spector himself released the song under the name of the Crystals, another all-girl group of the time, robbing Love of the notice she deserved.
Despite Spector’s tremendous betrayal, he later produced Love’s most enduring hit, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which she still performs to this day, particularly as the encore performance at her immensely popular annual Christmas show.
After all of her almost-hits of the ’60s, Love took a break in the ’70s to raise a family, though singing was never far from her mind and heart. Love returned to the backup scene in the ’80s, contributing vocals to jams by such talents as Cher (with whom she toured) and U2. Love also tried her hand at acting, bringing her trademark sass to a number of roles, most notably as Danny Glover’s wife in the “Lethal Weapon” movies.
Singing, however, remains Love’s #1, well, love. And “20 Feet From Stardom” admirably portrays some of her struggles to make her dream a real career — including a spell cleaning houses to pay her rent — while still culminating in the capstone event of her sparkling career: admission into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, complete with an introductory speech by another world-class singing diva — Bette Midler.
Love still performs to this day (as she did impromptu at the Oscars, naturally enough) and, in 2011, released her own best-of album, “The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love.”