Jan 10, 2023

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Long-time Pound Ridge resident Clive Davis is most often referred to as a ‘living legend’ in the music industry. Over the course of a 60+ year career that’s still going strong at age 90, Clive has signed a list of recording artists that most famously includes Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Billy Joel, Bruce Springstein, Barry Manilow, and Notorious B.I.G., among many others; and Clive may still be even better-known for his close association with another list of recording artists who Clive signed and collaborated with to match them with songbooks that made their career, including standouts like Santana, Ella Fitzgerald, Dionne Warwick and, most notably, Whitney Houston. In 2017, Clive was featured in the Netflix documentary ‘Clive Davis : The Soundtrack Of Our Lives’. He’s won 5 Grammy Awards as a Producer and both the Grammy Trustees Award and President’s Merit Award – the theater at the Grammy Museum is even named the Clive Davis Theater. In 2000, Clive was inducted as a Non-Performer into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. And this year, David Hockney sat with Clive to paint his portrait for the National Portrait Gallery.


As is probably the case with most living legends, Clive earns his accolades, and at the same time also knows how to market, nurture, curate and perpetuate his legend. Selling himself like he’s always sold his artists. He wrote his first auto-biography a half-century ago, and his second, ‘The Soundtrack of My Life’, in 2013, with Simon & Schuster. He checks to make sure you’ve seen the documentary about him, and he’s a little disconcerted if you haven’t. He’s eager to tell about the artists he’s signed and the great stories that go along. He has a regal confidence and a stately manner, and seems to effortlessly command the center of attention. It’s a feeling that’s accentuated by having the public relations team, his personal assistant, and the chef and other staff always at hand. He would only pose in his business attire, and he refused to take off his glasses.

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He was born in 1932 in the middle of the Great Depression, and grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn. “Let’s just say that from the start, when I was a little kid, I read everything and I got very good grades,” Clive admits about how his obvious exceptional intelligence was identified at an early age. “But, you know, my mother gave me some of the best advice of my life, telling me ‘I didn’t want to be just an ‘ivory tower intellectual’ and that I needed to go out 2 or 3 hours a day, integrate myself with friends in the playground, and play punch ball, stickball, and touch football. I listened. I think that’s something that’s helped me throughout my life. I’ve always tried to avoid being an ivory tower intellectual, and some of the great joy and benefit I’ve gotten from contemporaries has been from friendships involving sports. I was a pretty good tennis player when I could still play. …And I’m a big Yankee fan!”




However moderated by a normal childhood in modest circumstances, Clive graduated Erasmus High School at the top of his class and as a member of the Arista Honor Society – hence his namesake Arista record label – earning admission with a full scholarship at New York University – the first in his family to attend college. His mother and father died, separately, during his freshman year at NYU, and he finished college living with his older, just-married sister, in Queens, taking the F Train and a bus to commute from Bayside to Washington Square. He nevertheless graduated NYU Phi Beta Kappa with a major in Political Science, and earned admission with a full scholarship to Harvard Law School – where he was Law Review. “When I was a young man,” Clive explains modestly, “the way to rise above the station of your parents was to be a professional, either a doctor or a lawyer. I’ve always known I should be a lawyer.” 

He took a job with a small law firm in Manhattan, which dissolved after one year, motivating him to seek the relative security of one of the biggest New York law firms with Jewish partners, Rosenman Colin, run by his Harvard classmate Bob Rosenman. At Rosenman he was one of a few attorneys focused on corporate matters, while the vast majority of the 50-or-so lawyers were strictly litigators. After only a few years, impressed in particular with Clive’s work for Columbia Artists Management doing contracts for touring shows – and having nothing to do with music, Clive was offered the General Counsel position at Columbia Records. “I loved it! In the next five years Columbia Records bought musical instrument companies, including Steinway and Fender, and was the giant in the Classical music business, and then even signed and released Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel; and as General Counsel I got to put all those kinds of things in place.” Clive tells of his early days at Columbia. “In 1965, CBS acquired Columbia, made my boss, Goddard Liebersohn, the new Group Head for Columbia at CBS, and decided to break-up Columbia into four distinct companies. Goddard offered me the job heading-up the new instruments company to be based in La Jolla, California, with a raise from $25,000 to $75,000. But I was in the middle of a divorce with my first wife and knew I would have sole responsibility for my two boys, and didn’t want to move them out of their lives in New York, and was planning to turn down the position. When Goddard called at about 6:30 the next morning and, before I could get a word out, he said plans had changed, and that Norman Adler had always wanted to move to La Jolla and was campaigning for the instrument division job, and so I was to remain in New York and become the head of Columbia Records!”



“But I didn’t want to be just an ivory tower lawyer or CEO, so I immersed myself in listening to music – a lot of Miles Davis – and in everything going on in the music industry at that time. Watch, observe, and learn. The folks in A&R [artists and repertoire] who’d grown up with Mitch Miller and Johnny Mathis and were successful for Columbia with My Fair Lady and West Side Story, were not interested in the emerging rock n’ roll. Mitch Miller was quoted as saying that ‘rock n’ roll was short lived’,” Clive recalls with a chuckle. “As head of Columbia, I hadn’t personally signed a new artist for almost two years…and then I found myself at the three-day Monterey Pop Festival. It was the expression of the cultural revolution and musical revolution. People in robes with flowers in their hair…and the amplification of the guitar. I saw Janis Joplin – the most soulful White sister I’d ever seen –  breathing fire like the voice of the new generation. …There were no A&R folks with me, and I had no musical background to that point, but I followed my instinct, and the spine tingling sensation Janis had given me, and I paid $200,000 to Mainstream Records, who’d just gotten her under contract but had not produced an album, to buy her contract.”

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“Music became my passion,” Clive states clearly. “Back in New York a few weeks after Monterey, I signed a heady ensemble of horns playing a rock, blues and jazz mix known as Blood Sweat & Tears. Then Earth Wind & Fire, and Santana…and Springsteen. And as an executive, I was pretty comfortable hiring and managing the best executives and matching the right executives with the right artists. I was not afraid of dissent, and wanted always to get the best of everyone’s different expertise. Although I’d come to music accidentally, I had a love of contemporary music, found I had a good ear, and had the confidence to follow my instincts.”


“I was fired in 1973, when CBS cleaned house in the wake of a scandal in the record world involving alleged ‘payola’ going to radio stations, and it was a painful year-and-a-half before I was personally exonerated. I wrote my first book, about the drama of withstanding adversity, during that time. I had to start all over again, and formed Arista. Columbia Pictures put in $10M and gave me the right to pick artists from what had become their music division – and I chose Barry Manilow and Melissa Manchester among others. I wanted to compete with RCA and Capitol, and eventually we became #1,” Clive says of his years at Arista. “I signed artists who could produce platinum hits and pop albums. The Kinks, Patty Smyth, The Outlaws, The Brecker Brothers, Collin Brown, Lou Reed, Lily Tomlin and Monty Python, and Alicia Keys, to name a few…and of course The Grateful Dead. The Dead had interviewed a half-dozen record company executives – including me – two or three years prior to when I signed them, only to decide to go it on their own with their own label. They called me up and asked me to come to San Francisco, and told me they were frustrated that their albums were only selling to a fraction of their true audience, and that everything I’d predicted about being an independent label had come true and that I’d been the only executive who’d been honest with them.”

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“In more recent years, I saw R&B changing and welcomed Hip Hop,” Clive continues. “I financed La Face Records and brought in L.A. Reid and Babyface. I signed Usher, Tony Braxton, Pink, and OutKast. I changed my method of operating…but I was always listening. When I met Puffy Combs, he was only 21 and a middle executive at Uptown Records, and in a two-hour meeting he articulated his vision for a Hip Hop revolution. I told him he had to play me music that could become hits with a wide audience, and he came back the next day and played me four cuts by Notorious B.I.G. I was so impressed, I joined Puffy as a partner and financed Bad Boy Records.”
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“And I’m still very active,” Clive says with a hint of nostalgia but no shortage of reality. “I work every day. I listen to every record when it makes the top 20. I don’t really listen for pleasure. During covid, I produced CLIVE DAVIS: MOST ICONIC PERFORMANCES for Paramount+, a four-part series based on interviews I conducted and selected performance clips with guests like Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Barry Gibb and even Oprah. I produced the NY Philharmonic’s performance for ‘The Homecoming Concert’ in Central Park, in August 2021, to celebrate being able to go out after covid, and CNN broadcast that concert around the world to 16M listeners. And, most recently, I’ve co-produced the biopic on Whitney called ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ being released by Sony Pictures – in which Stanley Tucci plays me…pretty well. And I’m still the Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment.”



A star-studded guest list of 550+ attended Clive’s 90th Birthday Party in 2022, and Bruce Springsteen and Alicia Keys were among the notables who gave speeches to honor Clive. The greats always seem to be giving tribute to Clive – the living legend. As Monte Lipman, CEO of Republic Records – and another B&NC Mag local – told B&NC Mag: “I’ve been very fortunate to know Clive for many years. I continue to marvel at his impact on popular culture, and I’m truly inspired by his passion for life, and dedication to his family, friends, and community. Clive Davis is one of the most iconic music executives and producers of all time, and his contributions are immeasurable.”




…And that’s just how Clive would have it. Known and admired as a living legend, and “Someone who created a haven for many genius artists – whose music affected mankind and will go on forever,” as Clive puts it. “And I’m proud to be doing philanthropy toward the study of contemporary music at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and to have helped to finance the Clive Davis Arts Center at the Bedford Playhouse to benefit local artists and filmmakers. And I’m pleased to be doing a small part environmentally, funding the clean highway program on Route 684, where a plaque – that my friends often kid me about – tributes my contribution.” But then, leaning-in with focus, in his way indicating that it was time to wrap-up, and with the candor and humility of the man behind the legend, Clive revealed, “…But most of all, I want to be remembered as a great father and grandfather. I’m most proud of my four children, Fred and Lauren from my first marriage, and Mitchell and Doug from my second marriage, and of my eight grandchildren, two from each child! We all go away on trips together to Europe, and on boat trips, and every year to the Beverly Hills Hotel. And my greatest pleasure is that they all come visit with me in Pound Ridge. Family is truly most important to me. My parents were exemplary, and I will never forget what it must have been for my sister, who was newly married, to have me living in her small apartment so I could continue in college after our parents died. Family has always been primary.” And finally, back into character as living legend, Clive closed with, “And I’d like it to be remembered that my annual pre-Grammy parties were the greatest parties ever!”

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