Music mogul Clive Davis has a 1-2 punch of year-end releases up his sleeve. Oct. 21 brings a new studio album “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics,” followed Nov. 10 with “Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances” on CD and DVD.
Davis will preview both projects in a question-answer session on Sunday afternoon at — where else? — the Clive Davis Theatre at the Grammy Museum.
Davis gave Pop & Hiss an early listen to Franklin’s album, which has the markings of a fourth-quarter blockbuster.
The Queen of Soul’s voice is in exceptional shape as she takes on indelible songs by Etta James (“At Last”), Barbra Streisand (“People”), Gladys Knight (“Midnight Train to Georgia”), Gloria Gaynor (“I Will Survive”) and others. It also has her take on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” which has racked up 3.6 million hits on Vevo, YouTube and other outlets in less than two weeks.
As the mentor of numerous pop, rock and soul artists over the last half-century, Davis said he’d long been entertaining the idea of getting Franklin back in the studio again to reimagine classic songs with her unparalleled voice. (He also wasted no time noting her No. 1 placement on Rolling Stone’s recent rankings of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”)
After Franklin left her longtime home at Atlantic Records at the end of the 1970s, Davis shepherded a career rejuvenation by signing Franklin to his Arista Records label and guiding her to a new round of hits such as “Freeway of Love,” “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” and her duet with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).”
Most of the new album’s songs have dramatically different arrangements than the well-known versions, perhaps the most dramatic reinvention being her swinging rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” as conceived by Outkast’s Andre Benjamin.
It also was evident how close to Davis’ heart the Houston live CD-DVD project is as he hopscotched through several of the performances, which range from just after she signed to Arista in 1983 (a televised performance on “The Merv Griffin Show” when she was just 19) through a 2009 appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
“I know there’s a TV movie coming next year, but before the biopics start coming out, this really tells her story,” Davis said.
The recording also includes Houston delivering her signature 1992 version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” before a crowd of more than 100,000 people in South Africa in 1994 and performing “All the Man That I Need” for returning military service men and women in 1991. She is also on display for nearly nine minutes for her medley of “I Loves You, Porgy,” “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going” from “Dreamgirls” and “I Have Nothing” from the 1994 American Music Awards show.
The most difficult moment for Davis?
Watching Houston perform “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” five years ago on Winfrey’s show. In it Houston sings “I tumbled, but I did not crumble” and “I was not built to break,” three years before she died of what the Los Angeles County coroner ruled an accidental drowning while she was “acutely intoxicated from cocaine.”
Calendar will have more on both releases in coming days. Davis’ presentation Sunday begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Grammy Museum.
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