11 Beautiful Moments From Clive Davis’ 90th Birthday Party
11 Beautiful Moments From Clive Davis’ 90th Birthday Party
Longevity in the music business is a tough thing to come by, and few (if any) industry players can boast the genre- and decade-spanning success of Clive Davis.
Not that the five-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is one to brag. “I’m skeptical of those who are confident,” says Davis. “I’m a natural worrier.” If that’s the case, a lifetime of fretting has certainly paid off both commercially and artistically, which the music mogul’s 90th birthday celebration last night was a testament to. Approximately 600 colleagues, musicians, celebrities and family members gathered at Cipriani South Street at Casa Cipriani in Manhattan on Wednesday (April 6) for a heartfelt, star-studded salute to the man who signed everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Earth, Wind & Fire, nurtured the careers of Whitney Houston and Barry Manilow and founded two iconic record labels, Arista and J Records.
And he hasn’t slowed down: Not only does Davis remain the chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment, but his birthday party kept the 600-person room (which included Alicia Keys, Patti Smith, Art Garfunkel, Lin-Manuel Miranda, members of Earth, Wind and Fire, Diane Warren, Busta Rhymes, David Foster, Barry Manilow, Kenny G, Bernadette Peters, Martha Stewart, Judy Collins, Fran Drescher, Peter Asher, Katharine McPhee, Harvey Mason Jr., Neil Portnow, Rob Stringer, Pat Houston, Larry Jackson and many more artists and execs) rocking well past midnight – not something you can say about most nonagenarian birthday celebrations. Of reaching 90, Davis quipped, “It’s hard to believe, but given the choice I’ll take it.”
From Gayle King’s sit-down interview with Davis that kicked off the program to Mark Ronson’s megamix that brought the night to a close, here are 11 beautiful moments from Clive Davis’ 90th birthday party.
1. Davis lost both his parents when he was still a teenager, and during the interview portion of the evening with Gayle King, she asked him what he would say to his mother if he could have one more conversation with her. “I would tell her I done good,” Davis said to appreciative laughs and claps. “I miss her to this day.”
2. Davis, who came out as bisexual in his 2013 autobiography The Soundtrack of My Life, spoke to King about his marriages and loves. “My story is a different one. When [my second] marriage failed I opened myself up for the first time to the person and not the gender,” he said. Davis hailed today’s youth for their open-mindedness to love and attraction, noting that many people in his generation assume if someone has a same-sex relationship after a heterosexual marriage, they must have been exclusively gay all along. “I had no secret affairs,” he says of his marriages. “There was no hint of it in the past.”
3. Former and current business associates (many of whom he mentored) gave speeches honoring Davis at his 90th, from Apple Music head of content Larry Jackson to Hitco founder and co-chairman Charles Goldstuck to Recording Academy president/CEO Harvey Mason Jr. But Sony Music Group chairman Rob Stringer may have had the best line of them all, describing himself as a steward of Davis’ culture-shifting work: “I’m the current curator of the most marvelous modern art museum’s legacy at Sony.”
4. During his chat with King, Davis hailed Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as his favorite pop song of all time. Well, Garfunkel was in the house, so naturally the folk-rock legend had to take the stage and sing some of that Hot 100-topping, Grammy-winning (song of the year and record of the year) classic. While the audience was able to egg him into singing longer than he intended, he declined to do the whole song: “I left my voice uptown,” he joked.
5. Alicia Keys, whose Grammy-winning smash debut Songs In A Minor came out on J Records, spoke about Davis’ pivotal impact on her career: when other execs wanted to mold her into an existing template, Davis let her authentic singer-songwriter voice blossom. And the two remain friends: Keys told a touching anecdote about Clive Davis sharing stories about Miles Davis with her 11-year-old son Egypt on a vacation weekend in Miami. And yes, Keys performed, somehow making the song “Happy Birthday to You” sound like a soulful vocal showcase.
6. The legendary Dionne Warwick shared that she had been thinking about leaving the industry back in the ’70s until Davis told her, “You might be done with this industry, but this industry isn’t done with you.” During Warwick’s Arista years, she and Davis worked together on the AIDS charity single “That’s What Friends Are For,” which netted Warwick a Grammy, a No. 1 on the Hot 100 and raised millions. During the birthday celebration, the vocal icon sang a warm rendition of “Friends” to Davis while Kenny G (another Davis discovery) sidled up to the birthday boy and played a smooth sax solo at his table.
7. Earth, Wind & Fire – one of Davis’ signees to Columbia during his tenure as president – took the stage to sing a medley of their hits. Their falsettos still impress, and when they got to “September,” Gayle King was singing and grooving along in the audience.
8. Patti Smith, whose culture-shaking debut Horses came out on Arista in 1975, gave a teary-eyed tribute to Davis’ support and impact on her career. “Clive did sign me as a raw poet who sometimes sang,” she noted with a smile, adding in a quote from a Sly and the Family Stone classic: “Clive, thank you for letting me be myself.” After an impassioned poetry reading, Smith sang “Because the Night,” wrapping it by declaring, “Because the night belongs to Clive.”
9. Bruce Springsteen was unable to attend on account of having to quarantine in New Jersey, but he sent in a video tribute oozing warmth and gratitude. The Boss told the story of Davis telling him that his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. wasn’t good enough, which sent Springsteen off to write two more songs for the LP, both of which became singles — “Spirit In the Night” and “Blinded By the Light.” Bruce performed a full-throated acoustic version of the latter, which enraptured the room even via video.
10. After an introduction from David Foster (who gamely emceed the first half of the evening and accompanied a number of luminaries on piano), Barry Manilow hit the stage to talk about his history with Clive and perform “Mandy,” which Davis steered him to cover back in the ’70s; it became Manilow’s first Hot 100 No. 1 and launched the career of one of the best-selling artists ever.
11. The evening wrapped with a lengthy video megamix of hits from artists Clive Davis worked with over the years, a diverse roster that spans psych-folker Donovan and NYC hip-hop master The Notorious B.I.G. Mark Ronson, with help from Erich Bergen and DJ Earworm, said he received the original multi-tracks for a lot of these GOAT hits, and you could tell – the master DJ/producer created a seamless mix of rock, pop, R&B, funk, ballads, hip-hop, country and beyond that emphasized elements of percussion and bass that aren’t quite as prominent on the original mixes.
11 Beautiful Moments From Clive Davis’ 90th Birthday Party Longevity in the music business is a tough thing to come by, and few (if any) industry players can boast the genre- and decade-spanning success of Clive Davis. Not that the five-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is one to brag. “I’m…