Clive Davis

Clive Davis
Clive Davis

Clive Davis, November 13, 2007, New York City
Born April 4, 1932 (1932-04-04) (age 79)
New York City, New York
Nationality American
Occupation Record producer, Music executive

Clive Davis (born April 4, 1932) is an American record producer and music industry executive. He has won five Grammy Awards and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer.[1] From 1967 to 1973 he was the President of Columbia Records. He was the founder and president of Arista Records from 1975 through 2000 until founding J Records. From 2002 until April 2008, Davis was the Chairman and CEO of the RCA Music Group (which included RCA Records, J Records and Arista Records), Chairman and CEO of J Records, and Chairman and CEO of BMG North America. Currently Davis is the Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment.[2] He currently plays a part in the careers of Alicia Keys, Rod Stewart, Jennifer Hudson, Carlos Santana, Kelly Clarkson, Harry Connick, Jr., Leona Lewis, Barry Manilow, Whitney Houston and BC Jean.


Early life and Education

Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York to a Jewish family, the son of Herman and Florence Davis. Davis was raised in the middle-class neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He received a full scholarship to New York University College of Arts and Science, where he graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa in 1953. He then received a full scholarship to Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Board of Student Advisers and graduated in 1956.


The CBS years

Davis practiced law in a small firm in New York, then moved on to the firm of Rosenman, Colin, Kaye, Petschek, and Freund two years later, where partner Ralph Colin had CBS as a client. Hired by a former colleague at the firm, Harvey Schein, Davis became assistant counsel of CBS subsidiary Columbia Records at the age of twenty-eight and general counsel the next year.[3]

In a company reorganization of the operations of the Columbia Records Group, Goddard Lieberson, the president of the Group, appointed Davis Vice President and General Manager in 1966. In 1967 he was appointed President and became interested in the newest generation of folk rock and rock and roll. One of his earliest pop signings was the British folk-rock musician Donovan, who enjoyed a string of successful hit singles and albums released in the USA on the Epic label.

In June 1967, at the urging of his friend and business associate Lou Adler, Davis attended the Monterey Pop Festival. He immediately signed Janis Joplin with Big Brother & the Holding Company, and Columbia went on to sign Laura Nyro, Electric Flag, Santana, The Chambers Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, Chicago, Billy Joel, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Loggins & Messina and Pink Floyd. The company, which had previously avoided rock music (its few rock acts prior to the Davis presidency included The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, and Paul Revere and the Raiders), doubled its market share in three years. One of the biggest recordings released during Davis' tenure at Columbia was Lynn Anderson's "Rose Garden", in late 1970. It was Davis who insisted "Rose Garden" be the country singer's next single release. The song reached number one in 16 countries around the world and remained the biggest selling album by a female country artist between 1971 and 1997.

In 1972, Davis also signed Earth, Wind & Fire to Columbia Records. One of his most recognized accomplishments was signing the Boston group Aerosmith to Columbia Records in the early 70s at New York City's Max's Kansas City, which was mentioned in the 1979 Aerosmith song "No Surprise", where Steven Tyler sings, "Old Clive Davis said he's surely gonna make you a star, just the way you are." [4] Starting on December 30, 1978,[5] Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead occasionally changed the lyrics of the Dead standard Jack Straw in concert from "we used to play for silver, now we play for life," to "we used to play for acid now we play for Clive."

The Arista years

After Davis was fired from CBS Records for allegedly using company funds to bankroll his son's bar mitzvah,[6] Columbia Pictures (at the time unrelated to Columbia Records) hired him to be a consultant for the company's record and music operations. After taking time out to write his memoirs, he founded the company Arista Records (named after New York City's secondary school honor society of which he was a member). At Arista Davis signed Patti Smith, The Outlaws, in addition to Whitney Houston, Eric Carmen, Exposé, Ace of Base, Air Supply, Dionne Warwick, Ray Parker and Raydio, Aretha Franklin and Alicia Keys and brought to the label Carly Simon, The Grateful Dead, The Kinks and Lou Reed. He founded Arista Nashville which became the home to Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Pam Tillis and Brad Paisley. He founded LaFace Records with L.A. Reid and Babyface and it became the home of TLC, Usher, Outkast, P!nk and Toni Braxton. He founded Bad Boy Records with Sean "Puff" Combs and it became the home of the Notorious B.I.G., Puffy Combs, Mase, 112 and Faith Evans. Davis was made aware of a young unknown singer named Whitney Houston at a New York City nightclub. Impressed with what he heard, Davis signed the singer to Arista Records. Houston would become one of the biggest selling artists in music history under the guidance of Davis at Arista Records. Davis left Arista in 2000 and started J Records, an independent label with financial backing from Arista parent Bertelsmann Music Group. BMG would buy a majority stake in J Records in 2002, and Davis would become president and CEO of the larger RCA Music Group.

Sony Music Entertainment

In 2004, BMG merged with Sony Music Entertainment to form Sony BMG. With the assets of CBS Records now under Sony's ownership, the joint venture would mean a return of sorts for Davis to his former employer. Davis remained with RCA Label Group until 2008, when he was named chief creative officer for Sony BMG. Barry Weiss, head of Sony's Zomba Group of Companies, replaced Davis as RCA Label Group's chairman.[7] Sony BMG became Sony Music Entertainment in late 2008 when BMG sold its shares to Sony.[8] Arista Records and J Records which were both founded by Davis were dissolved in October 2011 through the restructuring of RCA Records. All artists under those labels have been moved to RCA Records. [9]


Grammy Awards

Clive Davis has won four Grammy Awards as a Producer:

Davis was also presented with the Recording Academy's Grammy Trustees Award in 2000 and the President's Merit Award in 2009.

Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. The theater at the Grammy Museum was named the Clive Davis Theater in the year 2011.


Preceded by
Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment
April 2008-present
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Chief Executive Officer of RCA Music Group
2002 to April 2008
Succeeded by
Barry Weiss (RCA/Jive Label Group)

Further reading

  • Davis, Clive (1975). Clive: Inside the Record Business. William Morrow & Company, Inc.

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