In the Oscar nominated Twenty Feet From Stardom – a documentary that turns a spotlight onto the voices and spirits of background vocalists who made good songs great – the American composer Bill Maxwell, captured the essence of singing perfectly.
The voices of church girls Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Judith Hill and others elevated the songs of the likes of The Rolling Stones, Sting, Michael Jackson, Joe Cocker, David Bowie and Carole King, as these ladies did their thing in the background, unnoticed, and at times, even uncredited thanks to a cruel music industry. Yet as long-time background vocalist Tata Vega points out, “Sometimes that’s the part you remember of the whole song - the background part.” You need only to think of the refrain of “Allllllllll night,” in David Bowie’s Young American or the rich harmonies of Joe Cocker’s By With A Little Help From My Friends, to know this is true.
While church worship music is not about stardom, the sentiment remains the same – the sound of a chorus of individual voices coming together with their spirits and testimonies can stay with you for a very long time. Producers like Phil Spector and artists like Sting tracked these women down to add something which could never be manufactured in a studio – the heart behind their powerful voices.
While we may not have known their names before the producers of this documentary interviewed these women and captured their stories, we know their voices, and we connect with their spirits. Singer for Sting and Michael Jackson Judith Hill says, “Being a background singer is being a team player, having a servant heart, and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of that.”
Indeed, when we come together as a team to sing on a Sunday we are reflecting the harmonies and beauty of the Body of Christ working together to worship our God, bringing Heaven to Earth; a chorus of individual voices.
In Revelation 12, John writes, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
When vocalists join to declare the goodness of God, with no agenda, but no less coming forward to sing boldly of the glory of God manifest in our daily lives, there is great power. Being a background vocalist mirrors the congregation. When the worship leader sings alone, the congregation may only listen, but when the background vocalists join in, the congregation gains wings and soars, reminded of their own voices and triumphant testimonies, and the importance of singing to the One who redeemed our souls. No glory to us, only glory to Him.
If you are a background singer, ascend to the platform humbly, but sing with all of your strength and your skill, and testify to the awesomeness of our God. Your voice is eternally important. Sing it out.
“Go ahead – sing your new song to the Lord! Let everyone in every language sing Him a new song. Don’t stop! Keep on singing! Make His name famous….Take the message of His glory and miracles to every nation. Tell them about all the amazing things He has done.” Psalm 96v1-3 TPT
Julie Kerr is a singer/songwriter, producer, arranger and recording artist. She has recorded three albums including her latest LP Carry On (2016, Lights Record Label) co-produced by Grammy nominated producer Simon Cohen and recorded at Studios 301. Julie is currently writing new worship and non-worship music, and is the vocal director for C3 Oxford Falls. Julie is a mother to four children and wife to the very handsome and wise Robert Kerr.