Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a 2002 documentary film directed by Paul Justman. It recounts the story of The Funk Brothers, the uncredited and largely unheralded studio musicians who were the hand picked house band by Berry Gordy in 1959. They were the band who 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 the bass lines of James Jamerson.
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); “Pistol” Allen (drums); “Papa Zita” Benjamin (drums); “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, and Beach Boys together. 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, Mary Wells, amongst other noteworthy bands during their tenure from 1959 to 1973.