Music mogul Clive Davis is so beloved, one of his premiere stars Aretha Franklin, complaining of upper respiratory problems, came out in full vocal force to celebrate him at Radio City Music Hall for the opening of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. What a night! First the screening of the documentary, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of our Lives, a glorious film directed by Chris Perkel tracing Clive’s genius career, first seeing Janis Joplin at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and signing her up at CBS, which prior to that auspicious recognition of rock and roll as art, was dominated by the sing along sound of Mitch Miller.
Through success and scandal, Brooklyn-born Clive Davis comes off as modest, even humble, his passion for music an unpredictable gift. After he was unfairly ousted from CBS, and disbarred, in the midst of a new business rise, he studied for the bar exam, and passed. It was that important to him to bring the karma around. The death of Whitney Houston was as devastating for him as his loss of parents when he was in college, he said, but he soldiered on, as she would have wanted, with his legendary pre-Grammy party.
Clive’s magic with great vocalists was to match them up with great songs. Knowing that, and acting as the night’s M.C., Whoopi Goldberg mocked getting Clive’s attention to find a song for her. Clive’s formula succeeded brilliantly with Barry Manilow, who kicked off the live concert, the next event, with a medley of his hits. On this great night, I came to a new appreciation for Barry Manilow’s enormous talent. He was followed by Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Halleluliah,” her voice taking it where you never would think it could go. And then she launched into “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” leaving the stage to shimmy up to everyone she could touch. As they say, she killed it.
Earth, Wind, & Fire followed, the dynamic, innovative group joined by Kenny G on saxophone. Dionne Warwick followed with “I Know I’ll Never Love That Way Again” and “That’s What Friends Are For.” Carly Simon sang “Comin’ Round Again” and had a kid chorus for “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” And then that “Natural Woman,” Aretha took the stage for a finale that everyone will be talking about for the entire festival.
A party at Tavern on the Green ensued. And Aretha kept cozy surrounded by friends and well-wishers. By the time I left, in the wee hours, Clive had taken a seat beside her, just two friends on a spectacular night out.