Insider Profile | Clive Davis
Legendary Record Executive


Clive Davis author photo credit Clive DavisAs the record industry’s most innovative, outspoken and influential executive, Clive Davis has had a profound effect on the world of music, acting as both its champion and its critic, and as perhaps its most visible and respected spokesman. Clive Davis’ contributions to music are, to a large extent, responsible for bringing the industry to where it is in the new millennium.

In the first phase of his career, Davis was General Counsel of Columbia Records and was appointed Vice President and General Manager in 1966. In 1967 he was named President of the company. The Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967 confirmed what Davis had been feeling about rock: the new music was a powerful force, the artistic expression of an emerging culture. He personally signed Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and The Holding Company to Columbia. After that, he was directly responsible for the signing of many more landmark artists in the rock field, among them Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Santana, Boz Scaggs, Loggins & Messina, Laura Nyro, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and Earth, Wind and Fire. In addition to bringing this fresh, brand new talent to Columbia, he signed such artists as Neil Diamond, Pink Floyd, Herbie Hancock and The Isley Brothers.

While building the rock roster, Davis was also strengthening the label’s catalog in all fields of recorded music, achieving historic success in the areas of r&b, country, jazz and pop music. He played a key role in the careers of Simon & Garfunkel, Sly & The Family Stone, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand and Andy Williams. Davis figured prominently in shaping career turning points for Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, and he signed Weather Report. Under his aegis, the company made a strong entry into r&b. Davis’ deal with Gamble & Huff brought to the company the famed Philadelphia-International label, which had an enormous string of hits and set the course for black music in the ’70s.

Davis left Columbia Records in May 1973 and, after writing the book, Clive: Inside The Record Business, a national best-seller in both hard cover and paperback, he founded with Columbia Pictures, Arista Records in the fall of 1974. The Arista Records hot streak began immediately. Only three months after the company opened its doors Barry Manilow’s smash hit “Mandy”, found by and named by Davis, went straight to #1.

Under Davis’ leadership, Arista launched the careers of Whitney Houston, Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, Kenny G, Sarah McLachlan, Monica and Dido. The label also attracted such important artists as Aretha Franklin, The Grateful Dead, The Kinks, Lou Reed, Eurythmics, Dionne Warwick, Daryl Hall & John Oates, and Carly Simon.

Arista’s Nashville division, begun in 1988, quickly became the talk of the industry with the discovery of a stellar lineup of stars led by Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, Pam Tillis and Brad Paisley. With over 150 major industry awards Arista Nashville set the pace for country music.

Analogous to his agreement with Gamble & Huff in the seventies, Davis made his agreement with L.A. Reid and Babyface to form LaFace Records in October 1989. During this time, LaFace built an outstanding roster of hitmaking artists including TLC, Toni Braxton, Usher, OutKast, and Pink.

In 1994, Davis and producer/entrepreneur Sean “Puffy” Combs entered into a 50/50 joint venture that resulted in the creation of Bad Boy Records with an artist roster that grew to include Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, Mase, 112 and of course Puffy Combs. Along with LaFace Records, Bad Boy became the most successful Hip-Hop and Rap label of the ’90s, with a shelf full of Grammy, “Soul Train” and other industry awards. Bad Boy amassed sales of more than 12 million albums in its first three years, including five RIAA platinum and multi-platinum titles and ten RIAA gold.

Throughout the Nineties, Arista staked its place in music history time and time again. Specifically, superstars such as Whitney Houston, Santana, Monica, Sarah McLachlan and Deborah Cox broke records with their long-running chart-topping positions. In fact, Arista carved its niche as the only record label in the Soundscan era (whose tracking began in May 1991) to occupy the top three spots on Billboard’s Hot 100 at one time. This occurred for a five-week period in 1995, when TLC’s “Waterfalls” held strong at #1, while Monica’s “Don’t Take It Personal” and “One More Chance” by Notorious B.I.G. alternated at the second and third position. Arista later staked its claim to the top three positions on Billboard’s Hot R&B chart in February, 1999 with “Heartbreak Hotel” by Whitney Houston, “Angel Of Mine” by Monica and “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here” by Deborah Cox (which stayed at #1 for a history-making 14 weeks). All three singles were executive produced by Clive Davis.

The 9x Grammy winning album, Supernatural, sold over 26 million copies worldwide, produced the #1 hits “Smooth” and “Maria Maria” (#1 record on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles for 12 weeks), marked the reunion of Carlos Santana and Clive Davis and the two accepted, as producers, the Grammy for Best Album of The Year.

Also, in 2000, Clive Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the only non-performer along with other legends such as Eric Clapton, Earth, Wind & Fire and James Taylor. Almost simultaneously, it was announced that the celebrated Arista chief would be the recipient of the Trustees Lifetime Achievement award by NARAS at the Grammy Awards

The landmark year continued when NBC Television broadcast a two hour primetime special saluting Arista Records and Clive Davis entitled “25 Years Of #1 Hits: Arista Records Anniversary Celebration” featuring performances by Santana, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Toni Braxton, Puff Daddy, Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan, Alan Jackson, Barry Manilow, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny G, Patti Smith, Monica, and many others. This once-in-a-lifetime concert special benefited AmFAR, City Of Hope, and T.J. Martell Foundation.

In August 2000, Clive Davis began a new phase in his career, announcing the formation of J Records. The label quickly became the buzz of the industry with platinum success story after success story, beginning with Alicia Keys whose debut album Songs In A Minor sold over 10 million copies and swept the Grammys. Her second album, The Diary of Alicia Keys debuted at #1 and has since sold over 8 million copies worldwide.

J Records has emerged as a dominant music force with chart topping albums by Maroon 5 whose debut album sold over 10 million copies worldwide, Annie Lennox, Luther Vandross and Rod Stewart, whose five Great American Songbook Volumes returned him to the top of the charts selling over 18 million copies worldwide, with all five volumes being co-produced by Davis.

Davis’ passion for music, though, is matched by a passion for helping his fellow man. The recipient of many Humanitarian honors from organizations such as the T.J. Martell Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Cancer Society, Davis began his tireless efforts in the battle against AIDS in 1985. One of the foremost leaders in the battle against the disease, Clive Davis has spearheaded the donation of millions of dollars to AIDS charities over the past 15 years. In early 1990, it was Davis who stepped in to save the faltering “Rock In A Hard Place” AIDS benefit show. With the resources of 15 years of star Arista talent, Davis decided to turn the company’s 15th anniversary concert into a benefit. Featuring a stellar lineup of stars from the worlds of music, television and film, “That’s What Friends Are For: Arista’s 15th Anniversary Concert Benefit” took place in March of 1990 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The event raised another $2 million to fight AIDS.

In 1995, Davis was once again named Humanitarian of the Year by the T.J. Martell Foundation, the first ever to receive this honor twice. And in 1998, Clive Davis was bestowed a Humanitarian Award from the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of HIV/AIDS research. In celebration, an affair which also recognized the humanitarian efforts of Barbara Walters and Tom Hanks took place where a dazzling array of Arista superstars including Whitney Houston and Sean “Puffy” Combs performed in honor of their friend and label head.

In 2002, Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and Clive Davis, announced a $5 million gift by Davis to the School for the creation of a new Department of Recorded Music. The Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music is the first of its kind to offer a four-year, degree-granting undergraduate program that recognizes the creative producer as an artist in his own right and musical recording itself as a creative medium. That same year, Davis was saluted by the New York Landmarks Conservatory as a “Living Landmark” along with Barbara Cook, Peter Martins and Mike Wallace and he also received the coveted NARAS Heroes Award. The Heroes Award honors outstanding individuals whose creative talents and accomplishments cross all musical boundaries and who are integral to the vitality of the music community.

In June 2003 the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame, the organization dedicated to recognizing the work and lives of those composers and lyricists who create popular music around the world, made Clive Davis the recipient of its 2003 Hitmaker Award, awarded the previous year to Garth Brooks.

In the year 2008, Clive Davis was appointed Chief Creative Officer for all of Sony Music Entertainment, a change in operational responsibility but an expansion of the artists he would now creatively be responsible for.

In the year 2010, NARAS announced that it will name the prestigious state of the art theater inside the Grammy Museum the “Clive Davis Theater”.

In the year 2011, New York University awarded an Honorary PhD of Fine Arts to Clive Davis. Also in 2011, Davis made an additional gift of $5 million, expanding the Department of Recorded Music into an Institute. The additional support and elevation in status will make it possible to recruit additional stellar working professionals as faculty, establish a generous scholarship fund and support programs to recruit the best and the brightest young talent from around the world, thus securing the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music recognition as a global leader in producing talent for the music industry.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Clive Davis was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of New York University, where he received his B.A. magna cum laude and he graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.

He resides in Manhattan with two sons and a daughter residing in the metropolitan area and one son living in Los Angeles.

Clive Davis | Legendary Record Executive

Clive Davis | Official Website

Clive on the importance of learning what a hit song is if you want to pursue a career in A&R:
"If you don't know what a hit song is, if you haven't really mastered the ability to know
what a hit song is, and you'd be shocked on how many people don't."

- Clive Davis


LISTEN: Behind The Music - A Conversation with Clive Davis
[Columbia Records, Arista Records, J Records]




Books & Media Mentioned:

Clive Davis - The Soundtrack of My Life Book Cover


📒 The Soundtrack of My Life [Clive Davis] -


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