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CLIVE DAVIS HOSTS MUSIC’S SECOND-BIGGEST NIGHT

Arriving at the Beverly Hilton, the first thing you see is droves of fans trying to get a glimpse of the A-list stars on the red carpet. Once inside, you see the security lines that mere mortals (read: the elite of the music business) go through. Rightly so, considering the current state of affairs, but that still didn’t stop some from whining.

Once cleared and inside the cocktail reception, it was on. Biz heavies vying for a drink alongside Alice Cooper, Suzanne Somers, Sylvester Stallone is the norm. One couldn’t help but grin when you say “hello’ to Sly and he responds “Yo,” or when in the men’s room you get the head nod from Chris Rock, or while sneaking a smoke Kiefer Southerland bums a light. But that’s what it is. When you pan the room and see biz royalty from Mo to Quincy, and in same section are Caitlin Jenner, Katie Couric and Barbara Boxer, and then Jamie Foxx, Joe Walsh, Gene Simmons, Gwen, Blake, Christina…you get the point. Doug Davis mingled about the room as if he didn’t have a care in the world, but based on the schmoozing directed his way, the theory that he’s the man behind the man is correct, and the herding of the cats (read: performers) falls directly in his lane.

From the first moment, you got a sense the gala is going to have a different feel. Not only is this the 40th anniversary of the gala, but the biz lost a lot of its own during the last 12 months. This sad reality is reflected in the overall tone and performances.


Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a downer by any means. James Corden intros Clive, taking shots at Tidal (“There are more people here than currently subscribe to Tidal”) and suggesting that Nancy Pelosi will be dropping an album “produced by Diplo, A&R’d by Clive.”

Performances start with the surviving members of NirvanaGrohl, Smear and Novoselic—reviving “The Man Who Sold the World” (originally done on MTV Unplugged), with Beck on lead. This is a more than fitting David Bowie tribute.

The performances continue, as Clive comments during the set changes: Melissa Etheridge (who opened for the Eagles on the Hell Freezes Over tour singing the Glenn Frey-penned “Take It to the Limit,” and then, to the room’s surprise, Barry Manilow takes the stage only days after being hospitalized. A video of him on Midnight Special singing “Mandy” plays while 2016 Barry sings along with 1975 Barry. In tribute to Judy Garland, he then sings along with her on video to “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart.”

Clive notes that it wasn’t until today of that Barry was cleared by docs to perform, so he had a backup plan: Fly in Carly Simon from Martha’s Vineyard. The rare-to-travel and rare-to-perform legend comes on stage like she’s never left. She encourages the audience to sing along with her, not that she need to. You have to admit, watching Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick sway and sing “You’re So Vain” isn’t something you see every day.

Academy kingpin Neil Portnow introduces the President’s Merit Award section, which will honor Irving Azoff—it’s the first time the award has been given to a manager.  Chicago plays Irving on with “Does Anybody Know what Time it Is” and “25 or 6 to 4.”

It’s obvious to everyone that the loss of Frey continues to weigh heavily on Irving, as he struggles to get through his remarks about his longtime friend and client. He notes that he’s pleased the Academy has recognized the role of managers. “Someone has to advise you on cleaners, private jets and divorce attorneys.”  As he has done for many years, he urges everyone to come together to protect artists’ rights and focus on solutions.

Next up is Earth, Wind and Fire, one of the acts Irving had requested to play, not only because he has a long-standing relationship with the group, but also because they were signed to Columbia during Clive’s reign at the label. The performance doubles as a tribute to the recent loss of Maurice White, and the performance takes on a life of its own, with the band going a bit rogue and more than doubling their planned set.

Clive, who has always been a champion of new artists, brings on Grammy nominees Andra Day, Tori Kelly and Elle King for performances.

Clive then pays tribute to Whitney—“The best voice in modern music history.” Addressing the fact that her health problems in her final years convoluted the memory of her talent, he plays a video of her singing “The Greatest Love of All” from Arista’s 15th Anniversary in 1990. Yup. That girl could really sing. Hard to say which was louder, the applause from the room in ’90 or the applause from the room in 2016—to a video!

Adam Lambert, Jack Antonoff and Nile Rogers closes the night with “Let’s Dance”. Fitting that Bowie tributes bookended the evening.

It’s now almost 1am, and Uber drivers are very happy as industry types order up cars via their app and everyone scurries. But a small band of family and friends heads to the Peninsula hotel for a bite. Anyone in this small circle who even thinks about complaining about being tired or the lateness of the hour is reminded that “Clive is 80—stop complaining and come eat.”

Try the salmon flat bread. It’s delish.

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