Veteran music executive and producer Clive Davis will again host his pre-Grammy Awards party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel this weekend, an annual music industry highlight bringing together an A-list aggregation of pop music performers and key entertainment world figures. This year’s “industry icon” honoree is Antonio “L.A.” Reid, the chairman and chief executive of Epic Records and a former “X Factor” judge.
Calendar asked Davis, 80, now the chief creative officer for Sony Music Entertainment, for his take on the highs and lows of the preceding year. He also spoke of last year’s shocking death of one of his musical discoveries, singer Whitney Houston, just before his Grammy eve party, a loss that he said left him “shattered.”
Davis’ new book, “The Soundtrack of My Life,” is coming out Feb. 19. It covers the decades since the 1975 publication of his autobiography “Clive: Inside the Record Business,” which became a widely read primer on navigating the pitfalls of the music industry.
We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of Whitney Houston’s death — how did you process both that loss and having to make the call on whether to move forward just a couple of hours later with your party?
It was very tough. Clearly I can’t… [He doesn’t finish the thought, takes a long pause]… Thinking back, it was very tough, but you know that you’ve got to do it. You know that Whitney and her family would not have wanted the music to shut down. They would have wanted the music and the tradition to continue.
I was particularly shattered and it took every energy I could muster to continue.... I think we did Whitney and her memory and her importance in music justice. Somehow we all, in banding together, tried our best to rise to the occasion in very tough circumstances.
What, in your view, were the most significant developments of the past year?
We’re obviously still being affected by piracy, but my latest look at the figures show that we’re up [in overall music sales] a little this year.
What I’m excited about musically is perhaps reflecting itself in the quality of the music. I’m talking about Frank Ocean, the continuation of Mumford & Sons, I’m talking about the Lumineers. I like Alabama Shakes. A number of new artists I think are really quality artists and speak well for the thread of the current music scene.
You’ve been closely associated in recent years with “American Idol,” whose ratings have dropped since the introduction of competitors such as “The Voice” and “X Factor.” It’s also been a long time since “Idol” produced a star of the stature of early winners such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Are those days behind us?
I think the musical competition [genre] is very formidable and it is likely to produce strong artists for the future.
I think perhaps there’s been a little too much emphasis, in coming to the first albums, for the artists to reflect their writing. If they are writers, as Chris Daughtry showed himself to be, that’s good and well. But if they’re not, then I think it’s more important that the best of the writing community form a healthy partnership with the artist. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
What’s ahead for you personally, in addition to your new book?
I’m working very hard on the new Jennifer Hudson album. I’m also in the process of reuniting with Aretha Franklin on an album that pays tribute to the great signature songs of divas and coming up with fresh arrangements. We’re looking forward to Babyface and Danger Mouse combining and doing a wonderful album with Aretha.
Anything out of the box for you?
I always wanted to produce a Broadway show and I’ve never done it. I’m hopeful during this year to finalize plans with Roger Berlind, Scott Landis and the Nederlanders to revive “My Fair Lady.” It was only revived, to my knowledge, once in America, and not as strong as the tradition of Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. I don’t want to jinx myself, but we’re in discussions with two magnificent performers and a wonderful director to do that.