Tribeca Film Festival kicks off with tribute to Clive Davis, will live stream sessions

Clive Davis with Whitney Houston

One of the best marketers of all time wasn’t the head of an agency or a great creative director – he was the chief of a record label (several actually) who hit musical gold time and time again through matching great songs with great artists and treating his talent with the utmost love and respect.

The Tribeca Film Festival presented by AT&T kicked off Wednesday (April 19) night at Radio City Music Hall with the debut of Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, a documentary about the famed record mogul, followed by a star-studded concert of many of the artists he helped usher to fame.

To show the level to which Davis held sway (and still does) over the music industry, the night was introduced by New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who said that “true success is helping others to thrive” in reference to Davis, while Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, co-founders of the festival, joked that the artists that played that evening were “fresh from not performing at the (presidential) inauguration.”

The documentary, directed by Chris Perkel and produced by Michael Bernstein of Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions, was then shown to the packed crowd and it was an incredible display of how one can find success through hard work and a golden ear.

Davis grew up in working-class Brooklyn, lost both parents when he was a late teen, then persisted to finish college and law school to become a lawyer. He was eventually appointed head of Columbia Records, even though he had no musical background. But Davis was smart and knew that Columbia needed to embrace the coming of rock ‘n’ roll. After a trip to the famed Monterey Pop Festival and seeing an electric Janis Joplin, he found his muse and his calling. He signed Joplin and helped usher in a musical revolution.

The film displayed Davis’ knack for finding the right sound to make hit after hit. He signed artists like Santana, Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Aerosmith, launching CBS and Columbia into the stratosphere of rock, but he never rested on his laurels. He also nurtured the careers of Simon & Garfunkel, Miles Davis in his electric era, Bruce Springsteen, Earth Wind & Fire, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, the Kinks, the Grateful Dead, Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin.

Aretha Franklin at the Tribeca Film Festival opening gala

His vision didn’t end in the 70s or even the 80s, however. In the 80s he found a promising teenager with a gigantic voice named Whitney Houston, who he would launch into super stardom and treat as essentially an extension of his family. The film spends plenty of time on Houston, even giving her and her untimely death the spotlight near the end of the film, but it was Houston that provided Davis with crossover clout, giving him the ability to reach into the R&B market and helping found Bad Boy Records with Sean “Puffy” Combs. He also dabbled in country and rap, proving that a good song performed by the right artist didn’t have boundaries.

The film isn’t just a celebration of Davis’ success, however. The death of his parents had him always searching for connections, and he found those in the musicians he nurtured. The death of Houston devastated him nearly as much as that of his parents. He was also fired from Columbia during the Payola scandal, though charges were never substantiated. He was later ousted at Arista records, but he always found a way to bounce back and find hitmakers.

One could view Davis as the last of his breed, especially in light of the changing nature of the music industry, one not based on record sales. But Davis persisted through the decades, more recently finding hits for the likes of Alicia Keyes and Jennifer Hudson.

Hudson was one of those on hand to pay musical tribute to Davis, belting out hits by Houston with her powerhouse voice. Other Davis divas on hand to sing to him were Dionne Warwick and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who closed out the night with power and love for the man who helped keep her career thriving through the decades. Performances by Earth, Wind & Fire, Kenny G (yes, he even brought the smooth jazz saxophonist to fame), Barry Manilow – and even a strange musical appearance by Carly Simon with children – made for a magical night in tribute to one of music’s true icons.

Barry Manilow sings at the Tribeca Film Festival opening gala

Tribeca will live stream some sessions

For those who can’t make it to New York for the 16th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival during the next 12 days, Tribeca will broadcast real-time Facebook Live videos of events from the biggest names in film, television, sports, and fashion.

Fans can be a part of the conversations in real-time during unscripted talks with such stars as Kobe Bryant, Lena Dunham, Ron Howard, Matt LeBlanc, Michael Moore, Elizabeth Moss, Zac Posen, Geoffrey Rush, and Emily Watson, among many others. For the first time in the festival’s history, audiences around the world will be able to experience closing night, this year from Radio City Music Hall, with a panel discussion about The Godfather saga with Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola and actors Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and Robert De Niro. The 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, run April 19-30.

The talks are available exclusively via Facebook Live on the Tribeca Film Festival Facebook page. Check tribecafilm.com for real-time additions throughout the festival.

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Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

All by Kyle