The Lasting Power of Clive Davis

With Connick, whom Davis had never worked with before, he took a more active role. Your Songs is a compilation of covers of classic tunes like “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” and “Just the Way You Are,” a track list that emerged over long meetings when the two would listen to music for hours on end. Davis said that his goal with the album was to prove how great songs have extreme lasting power. While the resulting album is certainly worthy of praise, it was not necessary for Davis to put together this album to showcase the enduring legacy of some hits.

Take, for example, Whitney Houston, who Davis happened to put on the map almost 25 years ago. “Her first single was ‘You Give Good Love,’ and then ‘Saving All My Love for You,’ then ‘How Will I Know,’ then ‘The Greatest Love of All,’” he recites from memory. “Her first album sold over 20 million copies worldwide.” Those hits are anthems of the 80s, and still relevant today, despite an artist who has had her share of public ups and downs. But Davis was standing at her side for every step of her comeback release last year, and was extremely proud to see the album sell more than two million units worldwide in the weeks following its debut.

The lasting power is also evidenced by Carlos Santana, whom Davis discovered decades ago. “It was some 20-some-odd years later that we got together for Supernatural with ‘Smooth’ and ‘Maria Maria.’ We’re going to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of that album, and that’s symbolic. Santana represents both the discovery of an artist and also reuniting with an artist, which shows how long a career can last.”

It is this lasting impression that is Davis’ most gratifying professional achievement. “I’m very proud of the musical profession that I’ve loved since the moment I was fortunate enough to find myself in it. I’m proud that it was not just hit records or making money. It was the launching, the maintaining, and the developing of careers that have lasted, no matter what kind of music.” All sectors of this broad spectrum of genres that have been touched by Clive Davis came together for a tribute of the 25th anniversary of Arista in 1999, during which Santana, Barry Manilow, Annie Lennox, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Sarah McLachlan, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Whitney Houston, and others took to the stage over the course of the evening. “I sat in the audience as they performed, and notwithstanding what your taste is, each was a headliner,” he proudly states. “These were headliners who had survived over a period of time to become a part of the fabric of the nation’s cultural performers.”

Despite all of these successes, Davis never forgets his roots. A scholarship recipient, he is forever grateful for the generosity of others, thus establishing financial assistance programs at NYU and at his children’s school in Riverdale. He also touts the significance of health-related charitable causes, and places a personal emphasis on AIDS. Not content to simply be a donor, he has repeatedly called artists to action for this cause. “I put together Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach for ‘That’s What Friends Are For.’ We got Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Elton John to participate on that song, which was released as a charity single. Every single penny raised went to the cause, accounting for around 85 percent of amfAR’s funding during its first two years of existence. The proceeds from Arista’s 15th and 25th anniversary concerts went to the cause as well.”

As his years progress, he is taking steps to ensure that the next generation is prepared to follow in his footsteps, namely through the founding of the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU. “I always saw that film was being supported by schools for students who wanted a career in that field. There was nothing for music, except elite approaches, be it classical music or jazz, but not the music that was being heard around the world.” The resulting degree program is the first program of its kind, offering professional leadership training for aspiring creative music entrepreneurs, a “training ground for future music moguls.”

But that does not mean to indicate that Clive Davis is showing any signs of slowing down. Music lovers around the world can continue to anticipate hearing chart-topping hits from stars discovered and nurtured by Davis’ glowing golden ears.