Ten Famous Artists Who Started Out As Backup Singers
The road to becoming a successful artist is a long and arduous one. Even some of the most talented and best-selling artists in music history spent years building up their resume by singing backup vocals for other artists before becoming overnight sensations.
Recently, a newly released documentary 20 Feet From Stardom even chronicles the journey many singers face in the music industry on the road to becoming an establish artist.
As they say, everyone needs to start out somewhere. Check out some of the most famous voices who got their start as backup singers.
John Legend: Before making it big with his hit “Ordinary People,” the talented pianist/singer got his start singing backing vocals on a variety of records including Kanye West’s remix of “Me Against The Music,” Jay-Z’s “Encore” and most notably Alicia Keys’ 2003 hit “You Don’t Know My Name.” That’s also him playing piano on Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything.”
Whitney Houston: Before she became “The Voice,” Houston sang backup on Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” (which she would later turn into a hit herself) at just the age of 15. She also sang on albums by Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson.
Mariah Carey: She’s famous for her incredible five-octave vocal range, but before her voice graced the airwaves, Carey got her start singing backup for pop artist Brenda K. Starr in the late ’80s. Starr later passed along Carey’s four-song demo tape to Columbia Records executive Tommy Mottola, which kickstarted her career.
Luther Vandross: Vandross began his music career in various music groups and singing backing vocals for a who’s who of R&B artists like Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer.
Mary J. Blige: Mary J. has made quite the career for herself as the Queen of Hip Hop-Soul, but before she was churning out hits that earned her nine Grammy awards, she got her start as a background singer for Uptown Records in 1989.
Phil Collins: Before he was the frontman for Genesis, Collins originally came into the group as the drummer and backing vocalist. He took over as lead singer upon Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975.
Cher: She’s the master of reinvention, but before the Sonny & Cher singer first came on the scene in the ’60s, Cher started as a aspiring backup singer on numerous records including Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.’”
Elton John: With 30 albums to his name and six Grammy awards under his belt, famed singer/pianist Elton John got his start singing background vocals for the music/comedy trio The Scaffold in Liverpool furing the ’60s. He also played piano for artists like The Hollies.
Sherly Crow: She’s sold millions of her feel-good pop-country records, but before she was a successful solo artist, Crow sang backup on a Michael Jackson tour in the ’80s. She’s also sang with artists like Stevie Wonder, Belinda Carlisle, and Don Henley.
Vesta Williams: The late singer/songwriter scored six top-ten hits in the ’90s, but first got her start singing backing vocals for notable artists like Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Sting, Stephanie Mills, Anita Baker and Gordon Lightfoot.