Documentary on the legendary music exec kicks off the festival, followed by all-star performances
(This piece has been updated to add a video of Aretha Franklin performing in honor of Clive Davis)
Something about Clive Davis clearly brings out the best in musical performers.
That was again evident at the premiere of the documentary Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, which kicked off the 16th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival Wednesday night. The film by Chris Perkel sheds light on the special rapport Davis developed through the decades with artists as diverse as Janis Joplin, Aerosmith, Whitney Houston, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow and many more.
I was ready to give this industry up. And your immortal words still ring in my ear. ‘You may be ready to leave the industry. But the industry is not ready to leave you.’
The relationship came down to respect and trust. He respected the artists -- their unique gifts and potential -- and they trusted his judgment to choose material that would appeal to the public and demonstrate their talent.
Some of those artists, now in their 70s, returned to Radio City Music Hall to perform in honor of Clive after the documentary premiere, and most sounded remarkably good. I don't think they could live with the idea of disappointing the master.
Barry Manilow, in perhaps his first public performance since he revealed he's gay, played a medley of his hits, many of which Davis originally chose for him (in the film Manilow talks about his initial reluctance to record much of the material).
The last time I heard Manilow perform -- at a Democratic fundraiser in LA in 2004 -- he couldn't sing on key to save his life. But Wednesday night he sounded like the top-selling singer he was in the 70s and 80s.
So it was with Aretha Franklin, who confessed to having an upper respiratory infection. She sounded better than I've heard her in many years. Same deal with Earth, Wind & Fire. The only artist who struggled to evoke her early vocal accomplishments was Carly Simon, who nonetheless gave a game performance of "Coming Around Again," inventively combined with the nursery rhyme "Itsy Bitsy Spider."
Jennifer Hudson demonstrated her vocal chops by singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," followed by a selection of songs that made Whitney Houston -- undoubtedly Davis' greatest star -- a pop sensation.
Jennifer Hudson performs "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" in honor of Clive Davis. April 19, 2017
Aretha Franklin performs "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" in honor of Clive Davis. April 19, 2017
Whoopi Goldberg emceed the concert, joking that, like Davis, she too came from a nice Jewish family. She humorously recommended Davis consider her as his possible next "discovery."
"Clive, find me a song!" she joked. With his famous "golden ears" Davis could no doubt oblige.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.