2018 GRAMMYs: Clive Davis Talks Pre-GRAMMY Gala, Whitney Houston & More

Clive Davis and Pharrell Williams

Photo: Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images


2018 GRAMMYs: Clive Davis Talks Pre-GRAMMY Gala, Whitney Houston & More

The venerable record executive discusses his recent hit documentary and reveals some of his favorite past Pre-GRAMMY Gala moments

GRAMMYs/Jan 22, 2018 - 06:17 pm

Over the last six decades, Clive Davis — "The Man With the Golden Ear" — has had a singular impact on popular music, shaping the sounds and careers of talents ranging from Aerosmith to Barry Manilow, Aretha Franklin to Patti Smith, and Bruce Springsteen to Alicia Keys and Notorious B.I.G.

His official positions have included a stint as head of Columbia Records and the founder of the Arista and J labels, but his influence and esteem are greater than any one job title — a point driven home each year by the roster of A-list talents who perform at his annual event hosted with the Recording Academy, the Pre-GRAMMY Gala.

Davis, 85, was recently the subject of a compelling documentary, fittingly titled Clive Davis: The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. And on Jan. 27, he'll preside over the 2018 installment of the Pre-GRAMMY Gala, which will see Jay-Z receive the Academy's Salute To Industry Icons Award.

With GRAMMY Week 2018 upon us, and with several new projects still filling his amazingly busy schedule, Davis took the time to talk about his reaction to the film, his enduring relationships with artists, and a few of his favorite Pre-GRAMMY Gala memories. 

What was your reaction the first time you saw Clive Davis: The Soundtrack Of Our Lives?
I was really moved. I had no role in it other than being interviewed for it so until I saw the completed film — I'd never seen the footage of each of the other people that were interviewed for it . You know, this business is often ephemeral but seeing how many artists participated in the film — to see Simon And Garfunkel reminisce about how I picked "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as a single, to hear the memories of Patti Smith, Bobby Weir of the Grateful Dead, Dionne and Aretha, Jennifer Hudson and Santana and Alicia Keys — that really was a thrill.

When I wrote my autobiography, I was thrilled with how well it did — but someone could always say, "Well, that's his version." When you see the documentary and see that these artists did not forget, and you see that our relationships were something reciprocal — that moved me greatly. It really did.

"The first time you hear a particular talent rise to its peak with a particular piece of material, it's a chilling, spine-tingling moment."

You've helped artists begin careers, maintain careers and revive careers. How has your role shifted in those situations?
When you sign an artist from scratch they're relying on your musical expertise for guidance — not for molding but for guidance. You're really trying to bring the best possible audience to them without bastardizing their creativity, and I'm very proud of the matchups of songs and artists that were a part of launching the careers of Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen, Carlos Santana, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, and many others.

When you design a comeback — it's different. Rod Stewart came to me with his idea of doing The Great American Songbook and we worked together on it. In that case, you're dealing with a seasoned artist so all the awareness of the talent is there. There's no guidance needed — it's more a collaboration. That applies to bringing Santana back with "Smooth" or working with Aretha or Dionne all these years, or Barry Manilow's Greatest Songs albums. There's tremendous gratification in saying to an artist, "Yes, maybe you're not as big as you used to be but you should be. Your talent is prodigious and unique, and you've got many more years left in your career."

So many different types of artists have benefited from your "golden ear." Can you explain your ability to work with such a range of talents and musical styles?
You have to begin by understanding that each artist is an individual, and while you're looking for those artists that could be headliners, you use very different criteria. You're going to judge Santana differently from Dionne Warwick and Billy Joel different from Whitney Houston. The first time you hear a particular talent rise to its peak with a particular piece of material, it's a chilling, spine-tingling moment. But the extra thrill for me is how long the careers have lasted for so many of the artists that I have signed or have worked with, and how many of them are still doing wonderful work.

Your Pre-GRAMMY Galas have long been a major component of GRAMMY Week. Do you have some favorite moments from those celebrations?
Many, many, many. One special memory comes from the first time Alicia Keys performed "Fallin'" at the gala as a new artist. I told her that the good news was that I was going to introduce her to the industry. The bad news was that she was going to have to follow Gladys Knight singing "Midnight Train To Georgia." Hearing an all-time great artist and a new bright light deliver incredible performances back-to-back was wonderful.

I vividly remember Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas performing "Smooth" before most people had even heard the record. We decided to break the record by having it performed at the gala, and the place went nuts. Word of mouth spread and the rest is history.

One other vivid memory among many happened in 2000, the year I was leaving Arista to form J Records. I decided that there would only be two artists performing that year — Carlos and Whitney. The first half of the evening was Carlos Santana playing all the hits that he and I had been involved with. Then Whitney came on, just at the top of her form, and sang every song directly to me. So, it all took on new meaning as she sang "I Believe In You And Me" and "I Will Always Love You." Of course, the emotion of that was tremendous.

Maybe it's crazy to ask, but are there still things you hope to accomplish?
I've got to tell you — this documentary based on my life entered the iTunes best-selling documentaries at No. 1. I've always been on the other side of the desk, but for me personally to be at No. 1 was a new thrill. And I'm involved with other projects — I'm working with Johnny Mathis and I'm in the studio with Jennifer Hudson. There are a number of projects that are exciting to me.

So you still get some of those spine-tingling moments?
I certainly do. That's why I do what I do.

(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis, Elvis: My Best Man, and Running With The Champ: My Forty-Year Friendship With Muhammad Ali.)

GRAMMY Rewind: Whitney Houston Admires Dolly Parton After "I Will Always Love You" Wins In 1994
Whitney Houston at the 1994 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images


GRAMMY Rewind: Whitney Houston Admires Dolly Parton After "I Will Always Love You" Wins In 1994

Whitney Houston had the chance to thank Dolly Parton — who wrote "I Will Always Love You" — for "writing beautiful songs" during her acceptance speech for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance.

GRAMMYs/Jun 23, 2023 - 05:00 pm

Nearly 50 years after its initial release, Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" has been covered by thousands of musicians. But no other rendition compares to Whitney Houston's iconic 1992 cover for the Bodyguard soundtrack — and in 1994, the two shared a full-circle celebration of the song's massive success.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, relive Houston's Best Female Pop Vocal Performance win for her version of "I Will Always Love You" at the 1994 GRAMMY Awards.

"Dolly, of course, coming from you, this is truly an honor. You wrote a beautiful song. Thank you so much for writing such beautiful songs," Houston said to Parton, who presented the award and originally released the recording (which she wrote herself) in 1974.

Houston praised Rickey Minor, her band, and David Foster, who helped Houston arrange the ballad. "All the songwriters and producers on The Bodyguard, BeBe [Winans], I love you," she added before performing an impromptu song to thank her team members at Arista Records.

"I love you, Mommy and Daddy — I wouldn't be here without you. And always first in my life, I thank my Father, Jesus Christ. Without them, I am nothing," Houston said. Before leaving the stage, Houston took a second to uplift her supporters. "To all the fans, I love you! Thank you, and God bless you!"

"I Will Always Love You" also took home Record Of The Year that night, and The Bodyguard won Album Of The Year — one of only four soundtracks to date to win the coveted award.

Press play on the video above to watch Whitney Houston accept her award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 36th Annual GRAMMY Awards, and check back to for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Lady Gaga Praises Whitney Houston's Influence After 'The Fame Monster' Wins In 2011
Lady Gaga at the 2011 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Michael Caulfield


GRAMMY Rewind: Lady Gaga Praises Whitney Houston's Influence After 'The Fame Monster' Wins In 2011

When Lady Gaga's 'The Fame Monster' won a GRAMMY for Pop Vocal Album, the singer hinted that her newly minted superstar status wouldn't have been possible without Whitney Houston's influence.

GRAMMYs/Apr 14, 2023 - 05:16 pm

From the very start of her career, Lady Gaga taught society that it's okay to be different. While that may be most encapsulated in her 2011 smash "Born This Way," Gaga's 2010 album The Fame Monster — a reissue of her blockbuster 2008 debut, The Fame — solidified Gaga's place as a confidence-boosting superstar.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, we turn back the clock to 2011, when Lady Gaga won Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster. Her third win of the night (hit single "Bad Romance" won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video), Gaga couldn't help but let out an "Oh sh—!" when she began her acceptance speech.

After thanking her Little Monsters, family, team, and label, Gaga hinted that the moment was a childhood dream come true. And before leaving the stage, Lady Gaga acknowledged that she was particularly inspired by Whitney Houston's impact.

"I wanted to thank Whitney because, when I wrote 'Born This Way,' I imagined she was singing it because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar."

Press play on the video above to watch Lady Gaga's candid acceptance speech for Pop Vocal Album at the 2011 GRAMMY Awards, and check back to for more episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Inside The 2023 Clive Davis Pre-GRAMMY Gala: A Star-Studded Celebration Of Friendship, Excellence & The Songs That Connect Us All
(From left) Victoria De Angelis, Damiano David, Frankie Valli, Clive Davis, Ethan Torchio and Thomas Raggi attend the Pre-GRAMMY Gala & GRAMMY Salute to Industry Icons

Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


Inside The 2023 Clive Davis Pre-GRAMMY Gala: A Star-Studded Celebration Of Friendship, Excellence & The Songs That Connect Us All

Returning to the swank Beverly Hilton after a two year break, the invitation-only event featured an A-list roster of guests, performances from GRAMMY-nominated artists, and heartfelt tributes.

GRAMMYs/Feb 7, 2023 - 11:43 pm

A cultural icon and a crown jewel of the music industry’s most important weekend, Clive Davis and the Recording Academy’s Pre-GRAMMY Gala is known for a guest list full of household names and stellar performances remembered. It's also a night when the most successful people in the music industry come together not as competitors, but in celebration. Or as Davis put it, "We come here to break bread."

Returning to the swank Beverly Hilton after a two year break, the fête was sponsored by Hilton, IBM, JBL and Mastercard. An eclectic mix of personalities — a hallmark of the Gala — graced the red carpet as onlookers gathered outside the hotel, hoping for a glimpse of industry excellence.

"It’s crazy," Måneskin bassist Victoria De Angelis tells; the Italian rock band was nominated for Best New Artist. "It has just been super fun. We’re meeting so many artists we love," De Angelis noted, pointing out fellow party guest, Metallica rocker Lars Ulrich

Meanwhile Frankie Valli, who was nominated for Best New Artist in 1962 as part of his legendary vocal group the Four Seasons, had a similar sentiment. "It’s a lot of fun getting to see Clive and all of the people I’ve known over the years," Valli told, noting he’s known Davis for at least a half century. "It’s just a great evening out." 

The performance portion of the night began with Maneksin taking the stage first, ripping out their singles "I Wanna Be Your Slave" and "Beggin’" — the latter the band’s star-making cover of the 1967 original by the Four Seasons.

"We’re old school guys," Alice Cooper tells "We’re coming here to see what the new artists are doing."

Providing a link between the songs of yesteryear and today’s hottest talents, Davis then surprised the audience when Valli took the stage to perform his own, "Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You." It was a moment the audience relished, with the night’s guests, from Joni Mitchell to Janelle Monáe, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Sharon Stone and Machine Gun Kelly singing along to its earworm chorus of "I love you baby!"

Offset CardiB JudyGreenWald LyorCohen  JanelleMonae 2023 pre grammy gala

Offset, Cardi B, Judy GreenWald, LyorCohen and Janelle Monae | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Aside from the industry veterans (including performer Elvis Costello), those from the new class making their grand debuts on stage at this year’s Pre-GRAMMY Gala include Myles Frost, the TONY-winning star of MJ The Musical, as well the hip-hop star Latto. Nominated for Best New Artist and one of 2022’s breakout stars, she had attendees on their feet with her rousing hits "Sunshine" and "Big Energy." Lil Baby, meanwhile, participated in a salute to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop curated by Swiss Beatz, performing his songs  "Forever" and, appropriately, "California Breeze."

Lauren Daigle, who recently signed to Atlantic Records, also delivered a memorable first performance at the party of her own with a cover of Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man."

Judy Greenwald Greg Kallman 2023 pre grammy gala

Craig Kallman, Clive Davis, Julie Greenwald, and CEO of The Recording Academy Harvey Mason jr. | Lester Cohen/Getty Images for the Recording Academy

Currently celebrating its 75th anniversary, Daigle’s appearance and song choice was meant to bridge the gap between the Atlantic’s storied history with its newest artist, and coincides with this year’s Icon Award recipients: Atlantic Music Group Chairman and CEO Julie Greenwald and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman.

"The people who inspired me every day are my artists," said Greenwald during her acceptance speech. "I have loved every journey we have gone on together. Being able to play some small part in bringing your music, art and creative vision to the world has been the greatest gift and I’m so appreciative of every marketing plan I was allowed to dream up, every video treatment I pitched, photoshoot we collaborated on and all of the campaigns we launched."

It was a sentiment Atlantic star Cardi B reciprocated. "When I was in the middle of making my first album, I was very scared," she recalled during a heartfelt speech. "I was pregnant and afraid to tell anyone, in case I had to decide between my family or my career because I knew that happens to other artists on other labels. But with Craig and Julie, the exact opposite happened. You told me I could do both, and I will never, ever forget that. For real. Deadass."

lizzo 2023 pre grammy gala performance

Lizzo | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for the Recording Academy

Meanwhile, Lizzo delivered her own tribute in song with a performance of her song "Break Up Twice" from her GRAMMY-nominated album Special. Another tribute came in the form of Sheryl Crow honoring the late Christine McVie with a heart-wrenching rendition of her signature "Songbird" as well as the Fleetwood Mac classic "Say You Love Me."

Paying homage to the late Whitney Houston also served as a theme for the night, where her family and collaborators remembered the star’s legacy. In tribute, Jennifer Hudson offered an anthemic rendition of the icon’s "The Greatest Love of All," armed with her powerhouse vocals and a passion for the artist herself.

"Honoring Whitney tonight makes me feel very, very blessed," Houston’s close collaborator, friend and songwriter Narada Micheal Walden tells "God is in charge and her spirit is still with us, especially being in this very hotel she passed away years ago."

For Narada, the emotion is still fresh. "She gave so much, Not just as a great singer, her heartpower and love was so pure. The energy we wanted to put in the music, we really wanted it to live forever. We thought about it and prayed about it, and here we are still living it."

Jennifer Hudson  2023 pre grammy gala performance

Jennifer Hudson | Lester Cohen/Getty Images for the Recording Academy

Houston’s legacy was also the theme of Kevin Costner’s opening speech; the two co-starring in The Bodyguard. "Maybe this isn't the room for it but I don't want to miss the moment and this is from the heart," Costner said as a hush fell over the room. "Neither one of us, in the end, could protect your beloved Whitney. But your fingerprints on her life are clean, my friend," he said, referring to Davis. "You were a miracle in her life."

It was not only Davis’ impact on Houston’s life, but the industry itself that was a topic of conversation all night. Getting ready to celebrate his 91st birthday, the legend was still a master of ceremonies with the night’s starry guestlist and performers showing their respect.

Lil Wayne 2023 pre grammy gala

Lil Wayne | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for the Recording Academy

"I’d like to thank Mr. Davis for having me," Lil Wayne humbly said as he delivered some of his biggest hits, from "A Milli" to "Lollipop."

"Clive Davis’s parties are just always off the chain," the artist Damon Elliott tells "He’s like a dad to me."

Paul Schaffer recalled his own memories with Clive to "My very first time meeting him was in the '70s," he says. "I used to play on the Barry Manilow records and Barry was signed to Arista [Records]. I’ll never forget when Ron Dante, his producer, brought me in to play Clive a song."  Now, Schaffer adds that he’s been attending the Pre-GRAMMY Gala for 11 years with his daughter, Victoria. "It’s very significant to be here. It’s the hottest party."

Head to all year long to watch all the GRAMMY performances, acceptance speeches, the GRAMMY Live From The Red Carpet livestream special, the full Premiere Ceremony livestream, and even more exclusive, never-before-seen content from the 2023 GRAMMYs.

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Clive Davis On His Famed GRAMMY Party, The Future Of The Industry & Whitney Houston's Enduring Legacy
Clive Davis in New York in 2021.

Photo: Dominik Bindl/Stringer via Getty Images


Clive Davis On His Famed GRAMMY Party, The Future Of The Industry & Whitney Houston's Enduring Legacy

As Clive Davis' renowned Pre-GRAMMY Gala returns after a pandemic-induced hiatus, spoke with the music industry icon about some of his most unexpected career wins and his thoughts on the 2023 GRAMMY nominees.

GRAMMYs/Feb 3, 2023 - 09:30 pm

One of the most legendary events of GRAMMY weekend is back after a two year break. 

Masterminded by Clive Davis, the Pre-GRAMMY Gala & Industry Salute to Icons has enjoyed iconic status as a place where music industry titans, tastemakers, politicians and actors alike rub elbows to toast the year, reflect on the past and look to the future of music. Taking over the Los Angeles' Beverly Hilton, the return of Clive's party for the 2023 GRAMMYs is a show business tradition without parallel. 

The event also comes on the heels of a big year for Davis, who not only celebrated his 90th birthday but also hosted the Paramount+ series Clive Davis: Most Iconic Performances, and was portrayed by Stanley Tucci in the big-screen adaptation of Whitney Houston's life in I Wanna Dance With Somebody, which hit theaters in December.   

Ahead of the Feb. 4 event, caught up with Davis at the Beverly Hilton to preview this year's party, gauge his thoughts on today's favorite artists and reveal the act whose success most took him by surprise. 

Your Pre-GRAMMY Gala is back for the first time since 2020 after a COVID-induced break! How does that feel, and how are you feeling? 

I feel great that it's back. The demand from day one — maybe since we emailed the invites this year — there's been such eagerness. People are ready and it makes me feel great. I'm getting emails and so much in writing as to what the party has meant for them, somehow it triggers that type of response and it's been touching. It's exciting!

Can you offer us a preview? Who's coming or who may be performing?

Well, you know that that's all a secret. Who's coming is a who's who of music, many more great movie stars are coming whatever the reason. Nancy Pelosi and Paul Pelosi are coming, for example. But the tales about who meets who from past parties [are legendary], from Brandi Carlile meeting Joni Mitchell for the first time and how they've bonded since, or Joni meeting someone like David Hockney. 

Read More: Atlantic Records Leading Lights Julie Greenwald And Craig Kallman To Receive GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons Honor

This year, the Gala is honoring Atlantic Music Group Chairman and CEO Julie Greenwald and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman. Can you talk about their impact on the industry? 

They have been very gifted competitors as far as I'm concerned. I've obviously competed more with people like Mo Ostin, Joe Smith and Chris Blackwell. But Julie and Criag are incredibly gifted music executives. I greatly admire what they've done and how they're revered by the artists who've worked with them. 

In fact, one artist who works with them has asked to present the Icon award to Julie, and normally it's Harvey Mason Jr who's presenting it. So we'll see if that comes about. But if it does, it will be touching. 

You bring up Joni Mitchell — in the past year she's had a renaissance of being back in the public eye. What does that mean to you to watch Joni come back?

I felt it starting six, seven or eight years ago. Joni decided she wanted to attend my GRAMMY party. I don't allow schmoozing, so if there's a five-minute or seven-minute gap in between performers, I give shoutouts because it's a big ballroom and people don't often know who's there. But when I gave a shoutout to Joni Mitchell, I mean, it got as much reaction as one for an artist who has conquered the room after a performance. There were cheers and a standing ovation just for a shoutout, so there's a connection there. She influenced so many lives. And she'll be there this year too.

I want to talk to you about Whitney Houston. Her movie came out last month and people are celebrating her again since it's her 75th birthday year. When you look back at your memories of her, do they make you sad or joyful?

There's a certain element of both because I miss her. But, seeing the recognition of her talent and seeing that it's historic — in the film, she's quoted as being the finest of her generation. So, it's a combination. 

I'm gratified that she was not a one-hit wonder or a passing fad, but she'lll be a permanent influence and inspiration to young artists forever because she was that unique. So it's been very gratifying.

Speaking of the movie, Stanley Tucci portrayed you. This is a feeling not many people in the world know, to be depicted in a film. How do you think he did?

I felt he did me justice, and if that's his take on me, I'm happy with that take. I was gratified that my character is being portrayed by a really gifted actor who was not hamming it up or inventing a shtick or a persona. The reaction of others is that he captured me too, so it's only been positive. We've also become quite friendly.

I'm interested in your thoughts on the state of the music industry. Where does it stand now?

I'm very excited, most of all, that the industry is healthy — especially having gone through the period that the future of music was questionable. Now, I'm endowing a school in my name at NYU and giving scholarships. 

People ask, "Is there a legitimate future in the industry?" And the answer is, music is a necessity and it will be here to stay. So I feel very good that the industry is healthy, and the streaming and digital evolution, and that those entering a career in the industry will take it wherever that goes in the future.

Speaking of the modern industry, are your feelings on the current crop of nominated artists?

I'm a big fan of Beyoncé, I'm a big admirer of what Harry Styles is doing so uniquely. But in the longer future, there hasn't been a new Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. I also want to make sure that with hip-hop dominating, that a new Aretha Franklin or Whitney Houston — a person with a voice who is breathtaking — deserves to have a home.

In your storied career, has anyone's success taken you by surprise? 

I have a healthy respect for failure, so the most gratifying thing for a legacy or my career has been the height that so many artists that I've created a home for have reached and influenced as many people have. I'm thinking of someone who was maligned by the critics like Barry Manilow was and now he's still headlining. I recently saw him in Florida at an arena and the fervor in the audience for him was amazing to see. 

Does a particular record come to mind?

As far as what record, the record that I helped break personally that the odds were against and became a landmark breakthrough was Kenny G's "Songbird," especially being an instrumental. I wrote a letter to every radio station. He became the best-selling instrumentalist of all time. 

But who's' also coming to mind is when I signed Carlos Santana for the second time. It was viewed as Davis' folly. This was a man who did not have a hit in 25 years and was past the age of 50 and wasn't even a lead singer, so the fact he could come back with one of the best-selling albums of all time in Supernatural. I thought he'd have some success or else I wouldn't have signed him, but to be an all-timer is clearly surprising and gratifying.

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