It all began at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. The Clive Davis documentary kicked off the festival’s opening night, with a world premiere, red carpet event celebrating his life’s work. Radio City Music Hall was filled with music legends, who performed for Davis after the documentary was screened. Davis had signed them all during his 50 years in the music industry, and they were there to celebrate in style…with music. Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow, Dionne Warwick, Carly Simon, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Jennifer Hudson performed some of the hits which made them famous. The audience surrounding Davis had a treat that night.
For fans who couldn’t attend, there’s good news. The celebration will continue. On October 3, 2017, the documentary about his work and passion; Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives” will have its exclusive debut on Apple Music. The documentary is based on Davis’ autobiography. It was released in 2013, and it’s a bestseller. Appropriately titled, “The Man with the Golden Ears”, the book tells the story of his life from his childhood in Brooklyn to his presidency of Columbia Records, and beyond. Though he earned full academic scholarships to Harvard Law School and NYU, he did not stay with his lawyer career for long. After he discovered Janis Joplin, Aerosmith, Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago and Santana, it became clear that his talent was in driving the careers of some of the best musical artists of the last 50 years or so. He went on to influence and sign Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Alicia Keys, The Grateful Dead, The Kinks, Kenny G, Air Supply, Whitney Houston, and many more. All legends.
Clive Davis, “the greatest record man of all time”, developed a solid reputation for instinctively knowing which musicians “have it”. He has a true love of music which has resulted in decades of successful songs recorded by the best artists of all time. His work in the industry included the annual Pre-Grammy Gala, which recently celebrated its fortieth year. The documentary includes an inside look at this event, and how it grew to draw the world’s royalty from business, politics, television, film and music.
The documentary also features great interviews with many of the artists Davis discovered. It examines how he built Arista, Columbia, and J; top record labels in the industry. The film was directed by Chris Perkel, who enjoyed the challenge of presenting the story of the man whose musical choices would shape popular American culture for more than five decades.
It’s difficult to maintain perspective when presented with the staggering accomplishments of a man like Davis. It’s tempting to look at him as a man who overcame adversity and succeeding in a big way. It’s true that both his parents died when he was a youngster. It’s also true that he was always high achieving; seeking the brass ring and catching it. His entrance into Columbia Records was by way of a strange offer to work in its law department. Then, he was dubiously invited to head its musical-instrument division; swiftly followed the next day with an offer to run the record company. He viewed the record label as mediocre. Discovering Janis Joplin at the Monterey Jazz Festival was his epiphany, and from there forward, he never listened to music quite the same way.
The documentary has been viewed as touching, riveting, and in Davis’ own words, “gripping” and “very real”. It doesn’t back off from the low points and failures during his career. His devastation with the circumstances Whitney Houston’s untimely death are faced square-on, with dignity. He noted that seeing his life in through the eyes of the artists he worked with was “quite emotional” and very important to him. Those who viewed the film as “sugar coated” are free to have their opinions, but truth is…Davis brought the music of the highly talented to the people, and nobody has done it quite like Clive Davis. Enjoy the documentary. Decide for yourself… as Davis would do.