Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a 2002 American documentary film directed by Paul Justman that recounts the story of The Funk Brothers, the uncredited and largely unheralded studio musicians who were the house band that Berry Gordy hand-picked in 1959.

Background[edit | edit source]

The Funk Brothers recorded and performed on Motowns' recordings from 1959 to 1972. The film was inspired by the 1989 book Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson, a bass guitar instruction book by Allan Slutsky, which features a biography of James Jamerson along with his bass lines. The film covers the Funk Brothers' career via interviews with surviving band members, archival footage and still photos, dramatized re-enactments, and narration by actor Andre Braugher. The film also features new live performances of several Motown hit songs, with the Funk Brothers backing up Gerald Levert, Me'shell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins, Chaka Khan, and Montell Jordan.

The impetus behind making the film was to bring these influential players out of anonymity. In addition to bassist James Jamerson, The Funk Brothers consisted of the following musicians: Jack Ashford (percussion); Bob Babbitt (bass); Joe Hunter (keyboards); Uriel Jones (drums); Joe Messina (guitar); Eddie Willis (guitar); Richard "Pistol" Allen (drums); Benny "Papa Zita" Benjamin (drums); Eddie "Bongo" Brown (percussion); Johnny Griffith (keyboards); Earl Van Dyke (keyboards); and Robert White (guitar).

The Funk Brothers produced more hits than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Elvis Presley combined. It was their sound, according to Mary Wilson (of The Supremes), that backed The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Mary Wells, among other noteworthy bands during their tenure from 1959 to 1973.

Awards[edit | edit source]

  • 2002 National Society of Film Critics: Best Non-Fiction Film
  • 2002 New York Film Critics Circle: Best Non-Fiction Film
  • 2002 Austin Film Festival: Audience Award, Best Documentary Showcase Film
  • 2003 Maryland Film Festival: Closing Night Selection
  • 2003 Grammy Award: Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
  • 2003 Grammy Award: Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, "What's Going On", Chaka Khan & The Funk Brothers

Home media[edit | edit source]

The film was released on DVD and VHS on April 22, 2003.

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