Stephen Sonheim said “If I cannot fly, let me sing” Interestingly enough on March 2nd, the Oscars awarded the honors to the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom”, which is a overdue tribute to the incredibly gifted backup singers that may not be able to fly, but their voices sure soar and make all the music they’re involved with so much better.
One of those amazing talents is Lisa Fischer, who is known in the industry and in demand, having an enviable resume that includes Billy Ocean, Melba Moore, Teddy Pendergrass, Roberta Flack, and Chris Botti as well as being together with Luther Vandross and his regular group for a number of years
Lisa never let herself be locked into one style of music and for this reason she’s been a powerhouse vocalist joining forces with rockers like Sting, Chaka Khan, The Rolling Stones and recently Nine Inch Nails.
Lisa’s schedule is jam packed, but I was able to ask her just a few questions that she let me share here.
(Q) Jazzipedia: I know that you grew up having classical training, so was singing R&B, Soul and Rock a definitive choice over singing opera or did circumstances lead you down that path?
(A) Lisa: Singing in different styles was just me following the path laid before me and doing them to the best of my ability at the time.
(Q) Jazzipedia: Was your family surprised at your choice?
(A) Lisa: I don’t think so. They were supportive in my path.
There was one artist in particular that I wanted to talk to Lisa about and that is Luther Vandross. It so happens that I went to Junior High School with Wayne Garfield who wrote Luther’s first huge hit entitled “The Glow of Love”
When Wayne wrote this song, he was close friends with a group named Change and Wayne took it upon himself to ask Change if they would have Luther sing this one song that he had written on their album; the result was phenomenal, the song itself was one of the greatest club hits for a very long time and people just fell in love with Luther’s voice, which secured Luther with a solo career.
(Q) Jazzipedia: I’ve seen it mentioned in a few places, even in the movie “20 Feet from Stardom” that you considered Luther Vandross a mentor. What things would define what you learned from Luther?
(A) Lisa Subtleties and listening were the most important gifts he gave me
Although this was a brief answer, I believe that it speaks volumes, because many of the vocal talent displayed on TV programs aimed at competition, present so many aspiring artists who riff every chance they get and often beat a note into being unimpressive. Rather than an embellishment, it can often be a barrage of notes that may have the right note in there somewhere, but poorly reflect the melody of the original song.
Lisa, much like her mentor Luther, plays with a note with tremendous expressiveness and yes it is those little things that mean so much.
I had one last question for Lisa and that was in regard to the newest member of those celebrated in the movie “20 Feet from Stardom”
(Q) Jazzipedia: Since you’ve worked with Chaka Khan and Judith Hill’s mom worked for her as well, did you ever know Judith as a kid or work with her mom?
(A) Lisa I met Judith and her Mom at Sundance in 2012, her Dad as well. His name is PeeWee, and he’s an amazing bass player.
Lisa also told me that Judith was just the sweetest person and when I met Judith here in Portland back in October, I found out that she was right.
So, did the movie provide a boost to Lisa’s and the other members featured in “20 Feet from Stardom?” In a recent interview Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill all felt that they were exactly where they should be in their careers and that they are accepting their paths as it carves itself out for them.
That all of those featured in the documentary are being greatly appreciated is easily proved by the fact that “20 Feet From Stardom” is still playing; Portland, Oregon started playing the movie one week after its release and has been playing it ever since.
In addition to the wonderful support (what Lisa refers to as ‘blanket support’) for the artists she accompanies, you can see her perform her own hit single “How Can I Ease The Pain”
As a final note, Lisa has made it a point that she loves what she does and will not sacrifice everything and anything just to have her name on a billboard; her facebook page sums up her feelings simply by saying “Some people will do anything to be famous… I just want to sing.”