Lisa Fischer: A Legendary Backup
Vocalist and legendary backup singer Lisa Fischer takes a moment to talk about her work with Mick Jagger, what she is currently listening to—and shares just what it’s like to be twenty feet from the spotlight.
It did not take long for Lisa Fischer to be recognised for her remarkable vocal abilities. She cut her vocal chops with R&B legends Luther Vandross and Tina Turner—and in 1991 she won a Grammy Award for her song, 'How Can I Ease the Pain.' Lisa Fischer has toured with The Rolling Stones, performed duets with Mick Jagger and in 2013 she joined an international tour with industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. Recently she was featured in Harvey Weinstein’s documentary 20 Feet from Stardom (2013), a look into the lives of backup singers. Now, it seems to be her time to shine.
Over 25 years with The Rolling Stones! Can you describe your first encounter or performance?
I toured with Mick on his solo tour in 1988 and this led to touring for the Rolling Stone's on their Steel Wheels tour in 1989. I met up with Mick, Ronnie and Keith in a recording studio somewhere, London perhaps? Bernard Fowler and I hugged Mick and then Mick introduced me to Ronnie and Keith. They already knew Bernard. Ronnie smiled and greeted me in between him drawing and doodling on his white canvas board. I remember Keith saying something to me, but for the life of me, I swear I couldn't make out what he said. Keith had the warmest eyes and a sweet shy smile. And the sound of his voice was like a low purr. The moment Bernard and I were alone for two seconds, I asked him, 'What did Keith say?' Bernard smiled and said, 'Basically, he said that he was happy to meet you'. I asked Bernard how he figured that out. Bernard said, 'You have to learn how to feel him.” It was at this point that I fell in love with Keith's spirit. His eyes and smile told me all I needed to know. I used to call him my cookie monster. That low growl…so cool!
How did you get your start as a singer?
My first tour as a background singer began by combing through two industry magazines: Backstage and Showtime. There was an audition listed there for a group called The Crystals. I went to the audition and met Ms. Dolores 'Dee Dee' Kenniebrew. She was kind and patient with me because I couldn't dance to save my life. She put up with me being awkward and looking down at my feet on stage. And she gently and lovingly groomed me for her stage show for almost three years.
You are in the film produced by the Weinstein Company, 20 Feet from Stardom. What was this experience like for you?
Surreal. I met with the producer, Gil Friesen in July of 2010 at the Marc Hotel in New York. We spoke about a recent show I was involved with for Sting called 'On a Winter's Night' and Gil said that he enjoyed the concert and adores Sting and was also very intrigued about the background singers and what our lives are like. He asked what I thought about the idea of a documentary about background singers. We kept in touch. I felt like I knew him from the moment I met him. Gil introduced me to the director Morgan Neville. We did on camera interviews between touring and a whirlwind of life. Gil was having some health issues and passed away December 13, 2012. I was in shock. Gil was so full of life and joy... I felt like there was so much left to love and experience. Morgan wanted me to see it for the first time along with the audience at Sundance Film Festival instead of sitting at home, watching it and picking myself apart from the seams. Morgan literally held my hand through it. Individuals are often so busy trying to live life that we don't take the time to look at ourselves. It was very different to see myself through the eyes of Morgan on screen. I am thankful to Gil and Morgan for this beautiful gift.
What are a few songs you are listening to at the moment?
“Dark Water” by Peter Levitov, “Sun Moon Child” by Imani Uzuri and “I Heard An Angel Singing” by Martha Redbone.
It's an exciting new chapter for an artist who had early career success but eschewed the trappings of celebrity in favour of the satisfaction of making honest music every night.
Who do you consider to be your mentor and why?
Luther Vandross! He saw me in a way that I couldn't see myself. He made me feel like a diamond though I felt like a grain of sand.
What is one of the most unexpected things you have had to confront while performing?
People throwing things onto the stage—very, very dangerous. Since this 2013 interview, Lisa Fischer has toured the U.S. and Canada with her band Grand Baton, playing clubs, festivals, and major theatres to critical acclaim. She won her second Grammy for her role in the film Twenty Feet From Stardom, which also won the Oscar for Best Documentary.