When one thinks of the music industry’s biggest night, it may be hard to not also anticipate all the glamorous events and parties leading up to the Grammy Awards. And one in particular has become an annual tradition for decades, making it the go-to spot for A-listers.
Music executive Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy gala has been taking place the night before the awards ceremony since 1976. And the white-hot party is known for its surprise performances and duets, star-studded guest list, and as Davis puts it, its “dazzling audience.”
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The Grammy-winning producer even admitted that the guest “demand is the greatest it’s ever been,” which made turning people away even more difficult this year. Especially since he noted this year’s performances will feature a mixture of “great all-time performers, great new performers.”
Days before the event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, music industry and press insiders were in the area for credentialing when an “active threat” from an unnamed individual occurred at the nearby Waldorf Astoria. The Beverly Hills Police Department later said officers had “detained a suspect and will remain on scene to investigate.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Davis talks about some of his favorite past “electrifying” performances at the annual party, the pressure to make each gala better than the last and he teases the star-studded guest list.
Music executive Jon Platt is being honored at the gala with the Grammy Salute To Industry Icons Awards, and he’s close with Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Does that mean we can expect them on Saturday?
They will be there on Saturday, yes, they will be in the audience.
Are there any other big names you can share that will be in attendance this year?
From the world of sports, Scottie Pippen and Martina Navratilova will be there. From politics, of course, Nancy Pelosi will be there. There’ll be all the major players from Apple and Spotify and almost every head of every major label as well as stars who have never been there before. And it’s really exciting! It really is gonna be a dazzling audience.
When it comes to your annual gala, how difficult is it to turn down guests?
It is difficult because in order to arrange, in order to accommodate some of the newer major players that have got to be there in the world of streaming and social media and film and entertainment, you obviously have to do some cuts. So whether it’s passing the baton or asking that the person come without a plus one, we’ve had to. [The] audience’s finite number is 950 because of all of our production facilities. And you know, it is painful to do that, but we have to.
Who is the most famous person you’ve had to turn down?
I really could not politely respond to that. … [And] not so much famous people that are turned down, [but] there are people that have had a major career who might have been allowed to bring their wives and to say, “Look, we never would turn you down, but you can’t have a plus one.”
Do you ever feel any pressure to make each party more memorable than the last?
You always try to make it the best ever. And by holding that bar up there and that standard up there, somehow we do it because every year when it ends, they all say, “My God, as great as the history has been, it’s the best ever.” So knowing that we’ve heard it time and time again, that’s our standard to make it the best ever.
Looking back, what are some of your most memorable performances and duets throughout the years at past parties?
I remember the year that I established the best new artist category [at my gala] — it was around 2001 — I remember going to Alicia [Keys] and saying, “I got good news and maybe bad news.” I said, “The good news is that I’m establishing the best new artist category this year and you were gonna be in that spot, so I’m gonna ask you to perform ‘Fallin’ at my Grammy party.” And she said, “Well, that’s fine. What’s conceivably the bad news?” I said, “Well, the bad news is, is that right before I introduce you — and I love a juxtaposition — I’m gonna keep Gladys Knight on stage after she does ‘Neither One of Us’ [with Angie Stone]. And then with Gladys being an all-time great performer, I’m gonna ask her to stay up and sing ‘Midnight Train to Georgia.’ So that’s a classic, and how compelling it is if one of the greatest of all-time sings her classic [song] and then we’re gonna welcome you to the industry as a brand new artist as a fresh new talent, and I’m gonna ask you to do ‘Fallin’.” She said, “You know, I can only do my best.” [Alicia] had unusual maturity even there at the beginning of her career. And that was memorable because both Gladys and Alicia were spectacular.
And then after that year and after Alicia won many Grammys and the album [Songs in A Minor] went multiplatinum, I remember saying to her, “Alicia, what is your next dream?” And she said, “You know, my dream would be to sing at your Grammy party, a duet with Aretha Franklin.” She said, “I would be blown away to do that.” And I remember granting that dream and I remember the great duet that Alicia and Aretha did together at my Grammy party.
How are you keeping up and making sure your gala is the go-to event every year as more and more pre-Grammy events pop up?
I don’t have to make sure. Every year without posting, it is the party. It is the unique party. It is not a party just to have cocktails and dinner. It’s an evening to celebrate music with both all-time artists and new artists with riveting attention only.
It’s the 30th anniversary of when you won the album of the year Grammy alongside Whitney Houston for The Bodyguard soundtrack. How does that feel, and what do you remember most about Whitney at that time?
What I remember about Bodyguard — and it was poignantly described [at] last year’s event by Kevin Costner who introduced me — [was] that the film, when it was completed as Whitney’s first film, was sent to me at Christmas time. I was in St. Barts. There was no music in the film. You didn’t know why Whitney needed a bodyguard, you didn’t feel the chemistry between Whitney and the opportunity to interface with Kevin. And so I wrote a long letter to Kevin and his director, Mick Jackson, and I said you might expect this, but please understand, I know the world of film. I was on the board of CBS when they got into film, I’m on the board of Columbia Pictures. So I said you have got to show why Whitney needed a bodyguard. You’ve got to show her stardom, and this film is crying out for music and her opportunity to show why there’s no one like her in the world singing today. And Kevin, as he described in introducing me last year, bought into that; he was not defensive. The other guy went on the sidelines and between Kevin and David Foster and myself; we were the ones that brought “Run to You,” “I Have Nothing,” “I’m Every Woman,” “I Will Always Love You,” etc. into the film where Whitney just wrote so high in her performing life. And that really has created the standard of the film, you know, still being shown all over the world. It really became a classic film. And my involvement, along with David Foster and Kevin’s, really cemented a friendship that has become a lifelong one. And it was very poignant because Kevin really reminisced and told the story last year at the party.
Can you tease what attendees can expect from this year’s surprise performances?
The opening performer [has] never played the Grammys before, [has] never played my party before, and I think they are gonna just electrify the crowd from the very first artist. And then we’re gonna have a brand new artist, a brand new Grammy nominee, follow the first artist and it’s gonna be like that throughout the night. Just great music, great all-time performers, great new performers and an exciting mixture, which shows why music is such a wonderful career for those of us who are fortunate to have had it.
So it sounds like another night with jaw-dropping performances.
Well, that’s what it’s been (Laughs). I got my fingers crossed. Believe me, I worry too. The whole thing, I don’t take anything for granted, but I’m really excited!
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