The buzz around the Clive Davis documentary has been large, to say the least. Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives tracks the amazing career of one of the greatest record men of this era. This is a man who’s first signing was Janis Joplin, and has signed acts from Kenny G to helping bankroll Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records.
At Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday night, no extravagance was spared in presenting the Clive Davis documentary. The film did mark the opening of the 15th annual Tribeca Film Festival after all. With introductions by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Robert DeNiro, it was a momentous occasion.
Sitting second row at a film premiere is never ideal. However, sitting second row at a Radio City Music Hall film premiere with a concert afterwards is a dream come true.
The Clive Davis documentary is amazing, to say the least. From his early years growing up in Manhattan, to Harvard Law School, Clive did not expect to be a music man. It’s amazing to think a career in law was all he aspired to. However, Columbia Records threw him into the pool, and he more than swam.
His earlier signings included the aforementioned Janis Joplin, as well as Santana, Bruce Springsteen, and the Grateful Dead. As the years passed, he helped revive careers of legends including Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin. When he was pushed out of Arista Records in the late 1990’s (after brilliantly reviving Santana’s career), he defied the notion that he’d lost it, by signing Alicia Keys.
Of course, a cornerstone of the film is the late Whitney Houston. Her absence was felt in the room as scenes of her performing in Radio City flashed on the screen. Whitney’s rise is captured perfectly, and unfortunately, so is her downfall. From her premiere performance and introduction on the Merv Griffin to her morbid appearance at the Michael Jackson anniversary special. Most triggering are both the scenes when Clive reads his letter to Whitney pleading with her to get help, and shots from the day she passed as Clive carried on his Grammy party.
At the conclusion of the Clive Davis documentary, it was time to celebrate. An all star cast of artists Clive signed took to the stage to celebrate the man who made it all possible. The curtain rose, and just like that it was time to get up and get down!
First up was Barry Manilow. The recently out star treated fans to a medley of his hits, starting with “Mandy”, and going all the way to the inescapable “Copacabana” Between artist sets Whoopi Goldberg appeared, to distract the crowd from the changing set. She added the perfect intermission to each set.
Up next was Jennifer Hudson, who humbly took in each step onto the stage, amazed at the room and the crowd. She started singing around the mic, and clearly didn’t need it to be heard. First, she unleashed an amazing reading of “Hallelujah”. Then, it was time to party. Jennifer paid tribute to Whitney with a three song medley of “I’m Every Woman”, “How Will I Know”, and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. The entire crowd was dancing. Jennifer even hopped into the crowd to join in, even running up to Clive to ensure he too was dancing.
Earth, Wind, and Fire are arguably one of Clive’s most important singings over the years, and they proved that again last night. Despite last year’s loss of founder Maurice White, the band still played on with every ounce of energy. Part of that can be attributed to the unrelenting Verdine White, who still dances around while grooving with his bass like it’s 1975.
The band cycled through hits including “Shining Star” and “September”, causing more unstoppable dancing from the crowd. Even Kenny G surprised the crowd and joined in.
Dionne Warwick (Whitney’s cousin) was one of Davis’ first artist resurrections. In the late 70’s, Davis signed her to Arista Records. He famously told Dionne “You may be ready to give the business up, but the business is not ready to give you up.” She performed the first hit he gave her, “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and her ultimate sing-a-long “That’s What Friends Are For”. Dionne’s voice has been affected by her smoking over the years, yet she can sure still carry a tune wonderfully.
Penultimately was a rare performance by Carly Simon, who performing the title track from her 1987 album Coming Around Again, from the film Heartburn. Before transitioning from “Coming Around Again” into “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, she was joined by a a group to children to help her along. It was adorable.
Finally, in the only way to close out a Clive Davis show, Aretha Franklin took to the stage. Looking positively radiant, she launched into a pre-Clive hit “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Remember how amazing she sounded during that Carole King tribute that brought Obama to tears? She was in this form tonight, despite claiming an upper respiratory infection. The Queen didn’t miss a note, and soared.
Then, keeping her set brief, she launched into one of her biggest hits from her Clive era “Freeway of Love”. Aretha let the song ride out as she and her backing singers engaged in a church-revival call-and-response as only Aretha can do. And with that, the night concluded.