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MUSIC BIZ MEMORIES


The first three anecdotes in this timeline of NARM/Music Biz highlights come from Pat Daly, Executive Director of the Scholarship Foundation, Meeting Planner & Board Liaison for the Music Business Association. Jim Donio takes it from there. As you’ll see, Donio’s storytelling approach typically involves saving a key detail for the payoff. 


1979
Pat Daly
: At my first convention, Cher and then-beau Gene Simmons hosted the Awards Banquet. I was in awe as The Bee GeesOlivia Newton-JohnAndy Gibb and Suzi Quatro all sang together. Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood was there as well. The Association was introducing the first Merchandiser of the Year Awards, which would be given to deserving retailers, distributors and labels for the next 30 years. Winners the inaugural year included Liebermann Enterprises taking home Rack Jobber of the Year honors and Music Plus being named Retailer of the Year. The feeling in the room was electric, as were many of the NARM dinner events in those years. Casablanca Records, the legendary disco/rock label founded by cousins Neil Bogart and Larry Harris, brought the Village People to the Miami Convention. The room shook as they sang their new hit, “Y.M.C.A.” The label-hosted dessert party following the set was almost as unforgettable. What a night.

1982
During the Opening Business Session at the 1982 Convention, a full orchestra was in place onstage. Row by row, the musicians got up while the music kept playing. The audience was actually listening to a CD the entire time, demonstrating the quality of this new format. Definitely goosebump material.

1985
At this convention I was working registration, and Arista Records had a giveaway cassette of a new young singer that they asked us to distribute to NARM attendees. Not everyone was interested, so I remember asking people to please take one. The artist was Whitney Houston. The next year, she came back to sing as a headliner, and the crowd realized they were seeing something very special. Clive Davis, who signed Whitney, always came to NARM.

1990
Jim Donio: My first NARM Convention was in Los Angeles at the Century Plaza Hotel. I was sitting at an empty table during a rehearsal for our annual Scholarship Dinner. Sony was providing the entertainment that year. As Michael Bolton was doing his soundcheck, I was informed that a brand-new singer was going to be added to the show to do a duet with Michael. I expressed concern about whether there was enough time to add this into his set, because we were on a very tight schedule. They suggested I listen to the run-through first. The music started, and Michael began singing, and then the newcomer walked onstage to join him. After the first few bars, there was no question that the additional time would be well worth it. A year later, she was headlining that same Scholarship Dinner. Her name was Mariah Carey.

1995
Walt Disney Records had a string of spectacular sponsored events through the years, where they would promote the latest animated musical soundtrack, from Pocahontas to Tarzan to Toy Story. They even closed down the entire Magic Kingdom one night during the convention so that attendees could have free rein over the park to go on all the rides and experience all the shows and shops. 

2002
What a thrill it was to meet and work with the industry icon Dick Clark, whose American Bandstand and NARM shared roots in Philadelphia. Dick and I had spoken over the phone a few times when NARM and his production company collaborated on merchandising campaigns for the American Music Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards. But our relationship took another turn when he accepted our invitation to host the 40th Anniversary Awards Banquet. Dick had always been a close friend of NARM, having hosted two previous milestone events. He assigned a producer to work with me as I wrote the script, and it went really well. Finally, the day came when we would meet in person, and I was excited to meet him. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and Dick’s Bandstand TV show held a special place for our family, since my oldest sister, Mary Ann, had danced on the show in the late 1950s. 

When the ballroom door opened and Dick walked through with his wife, I quickly went up and introduced myself. I could immediately tell he was not feeling well. Dick had suffered a bad bout of food poisoning the previous night and had actually thought about canceling, but he didn’t want to let us down. He complimented me on my script writing, and after we did our run-through, he went to his room to get some rest. That evening, he was his ever-stellar self, joining us with special guest Dionne Warwick at a pre-dinner reception. The first half of the show went off perfectly, after which Dick retired to his dressing room to relax while the audience had dinner. About an hour later, I was tasked with going to his dressing room to alert him that the second half of the show was about to begin. I knocked and there was no answer. I knocked again, and still no answer. I decided to open the door and look in. There was Dick, lying face up on the floor, very still. For a fleeting moment, I thought, “Oh my God, am I going to be the one to tell the audience that Dick Clark, the eternal teenager, was dead?” I crept ever closer, hoping that wasn’t the case, and was immensely relieved to see that Dick was just in a very deep sleep. I got him up, and trouper that he is, he went right out and did the second half of the show without missing a beat.

2002
I’ve always been a big fan of traditional, interpretive pop singers. My good friends, the late Amy Zaret and Dave Stein of Warner Bros. Records, knew the type of artist I appreciated. So in November 2001, they sent me an advance copy of an album by a young male vocalist that you might say sang pop-era music; his voice was majestic and so memorable. Of course, I quickly reached out to Amy and Dave and tried to convince them that he just had to headline our Scholarship Foundation dinner in San Francisco in March 2002. It took a village to make it happen, but I succeeded. It was his very first live concert performance in front of a large audience. His producer, David Foster, even chose to handle the show personally. That young artist was Josh Groban. My colleague Pat Daly recalls Josh coming over to thank her as part of the staff for enabling him to attend and perform for the group. Obviously, it was a huge boost for his career, but his humility and “nice guy” attitude is something she’ll always remember.


2003
Our convention was in Orlando that year, and we had assembled an amazing roster of speakers and performers, but one really stood out among the rest. She was the daughter of a music legend, and she would be taking the stage for the very first time to perform live in front of an audience. Because of the huge PR value of her performance, our publicist had alerted the media from far and wide, and they were all there in force. I did interviews with just about every entertainment news show on the air at that time as they previewed this auspicious debut, which would take place the next morning. That evening, she was scheduled for a rehearsal on the grand ballroom stage. The room was empty except for her management and label team. I was in another part of the hotel when someone from the staff came running toward me saying I needed to get to the ballroom immediately. I walked in to learn that our would-be star was having some last-minute jitters about taking this next big step in her career. She was feeling sick—literally. I took her hands in mine and said she would be great and that she should remember that she was among friends who all wanted her to succeed. The next morning, she went on in front of a packed house of 2,000 excited industry folks and lots of media. After the first song, which she sang effortlessly, she received a standing ovation, to which she replied, “Wow, that was my first applause—ever.” As I stood there watching, I could not believe that I played a role in convincing the only child of the King of Rock & Roll that she could indeed follow in her father’s footsteps. Years later, when Lisa Marie Presley made a return visit to our convention to promote a new album, I asked if she remembered me. “Yes,” she replied. “You helped calm me down and convinced me that I could go onstage when I was afraid that I could not do it.”

2004
Clive Davis returned to NARM for the first time in many years for a keynote interview conducted by Geoff Mayfield, who was then writing for Billboard. Clive kept the audience spellbound with stories and anecdotes drawn from his magnificent career in the business. Following the keynote, I surprised him with the Presidential Award for Sustained Executive Achievement, which was special moment for me. What made it historic was that Clive was—and to this day still is—the only industry leader to have received the Presidential Award twice.

2007 & 2010
In 2007, a young female country singer from a little town in Pennsylvania made her debut on the NARM stage in Chicago, singing and playing her self-penned song “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Following the performance, her label, Big Machine, encouraged attendees to take her photos and CDs. Three years later, after a stratospheric beginning to her career, Taylor Swift returned to that same hotel and that same stage to accept our Artist of the Year Award before a packed house. As I stood with her offstage preparing for that big moment when I would honor her along with our Board Chairman, Rachelle Friedman, I asked her if she could believe what had happened to her in such a short time. She replied, “It’s still just me, Taylor, and I’m so grateful.” That attitude has endeared her to what is now an incredible global fan base. 

Click any photo to enlarge. 

More from Jim Donio here.

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