Amy Winehouse is only 14 in the opening footage of the Academy Award-winning documentary Amy. But she's already a diva in the best sense of the word: a singer of jaw-dropping talent who can silence a room with just the sound of her voice. Winehouse and three other divas are front and center in these dramatic music documentaries—all worth checking out, even if you're unfamiliar with the artists.
Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning at 27, had a singular voice that was overshadowed by her very public struggles with substance abuse. In Amy, director Asif Kapadia chronicles the songwriter's heartbreaking demise, but more importantly, provides the fullest portrait yet of the woman who wrote "Rehab."
What's even catchier than "Rehab" and shares a similar, retro sound? The song "100 Days,100 Nights" from the award-winning documentary Miss Sharon Jones! The film chronicles the release of the soul and funk singer's album Give the People What They Want and her final tour as she undergoes treatment for pancreatic cancer. Inspiring (but not sappy) and brimming with electric performances by Jones and her longtime band, The Dap-Kings, it's also a powerful reminder of the ageism and racism of the music industry.
The Oscar nominee What Happened, Miss Simone? also explores racism. Brilliant and brave songwriter Nina Simone, who wrote "Mississippi Goddam" and "Four Women," initially aspired to be a classical pianist; she began singing when a piano-playing gig required it. Perhaps best known for "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," she had a tumultuous life, but her courage, charismatic screen presence, singular alto and stunning songs are haunting.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Linda Ronstadt no longer performs due to Parkinson's, but she sat for interviews in Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. The resulting portrait of the versatile singer should delight longtime fans and novices alike. Favorite anecdote? She confesses her youthful envy of another, similarly gifted singer and then shares her wise, grace-filled solution—"one of the best decisions I ever made."
Who's your favorite diva? (Mine is Maria McKee.) Tell us in the comments!