For music business legend Clive Davis -- known as "The Man with the Golden Ears," the man who discovered Whitney Houston and Barry Manilow, the man who took the careers of Santana and Rod Stewart to new heights and hopes to do the same for Aretha Franklin -- the love of business came first.
The love of music came later, when the Brooklyn native was running Columbia Records and living in Roslyn, one of many reasons Davis will be inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on Thursday by his friends, singer Dionne Warwick and music executive Ron Alexenburg, who signed The Jacksons to Epic Records.
"It came when my profession changed," said Davis, who started as an attorney at a Manhattan firm after graduating from Harvard Law School and became assistant general counsel for Columbia Records in 1960. "Gradually, I found both a passion and a future, exploring a natural gift that I never knew I had."
Davis said attending the Monterey Pop Festival and signing Janis Joplin and Laura Nyro made him see music in a new way. "I knew that my life was changing," he said. "I was in touch with my creativity."
It was that mix of creativity and business that made Davis so successful in the music industry. After becoming president of Columbia Records, Davis went on to found Arista Records, where Manilow became a superstar, and J Records, where his discovery Alicia Keys became a star. He followed that by running the RCA Music Group and is currently the chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment.
And he is not done yet. The 82-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is looking forward to two major projects this fall, including "Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics," in stores tomorrow.
"She is at the peak of her form exploring these classics," Davis said of the Queen of Soul. "It couldn't be more satisfying."
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Davis has had success with connecting veteran artists with new fans before, using similar "classics" packages to reignite the careers of Manilow and Stewart. However, Franklin's project, which includes her versions of songs by Adele, Barbra Streisand and Etta James, is different.
"I knew in dealing with Aretha, who I first worked with in 1979, that everything was going to be historic," he said. "She is the greatest singer of all time. ... She has shown that she could take a song that has been done before and make it hers. And knowing that she had done that, what could be better than giving her these songs?"
Davis' other project is more bittersweet. On Nov. 10, Legacy Records will release "Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances" in CD and DVD formats, a project Davis put together from the late singer's archives.
"She was the greatest singer of her generation," he said, adding that going through her performances around the world that he had not seen before confirmed her talent. "When I showed the DVD recently, it was a perpetual standing ovation from the audience."
Davis said the project means a great deal to him for personal reasons. "Her legacy will be established, not distracted by her marriage or the tabloids," he said.
Davis' legacy has been established for decades. However, the work ethic that pushed him to succeed growing up in Brooklyn and moving up from Roslyn still drives him today.
"When you love something, it's a passion," he said. "It's not work."
WHAT The Long Island Music Hall of Fame Induction Gala
WHEN | WHERE 8:30 p.m. Thursday, The Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington
INFO $75-$150; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
WHAT As a fundraiser for the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, "Billy Joel: A Matter of Trust -- The Bridge to Russia" will be shown, and director Jim Brown and Joel's guitarist from that tour, Russell Javors, will discuss the documentary.
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Monday, Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington
INFO $25; 631-423-7611, cinemaartscentre.org