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Clive Davis taks with Berry Gordy, Joni Mitchell, other stars in virtual gala

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Clive Davis promised his second Pre-Grammy Virtual Gala on Saturday, May 15, would "reach for the moon."

And that was no mere hyperbole.

The veteran music mogul's invitation-only gathering -- a benefit for the about-to-reopen Grammy Museum in Los Angeles -- was a six-hour parade of mostly archival performances and genuinely insightful conversations with some of music's biggest names. Davis' firepower -- as head of Columbia and RCA Records, founder of the Arista and J Records labels, now chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee -- brought out chats with rarely interviewed artists such as Joni Mitchell and Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., along with Elton John, Oprah Winfrey, Paul Simon, Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor, H.E.R., John Mellencamp and Chris Stapleton.

Hosting from his home in Pound Ridge, N.Y., Davis, 89, also reminisced with artist whose careers he helped to build or enhance, including Barry Manilow and Earth, Wind & Fire. He spoke with Dionne Warwick about talking her out of quitting music during the late 70s, while Dave Grohl recalled how Davis came up with the right radio edit for Foo Fighters' 2003 hit "Times Like These." Davis also reunited with Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas to talk about the making of 1999's Grammy Award-winning "Smooth."

Saturday's affair was a follow-up to a Jan. 30 event that raised money for MusiCares. Both replaced the in-person fundraising gala Davis usually hosts as a highlight to Grammy Week each year. The second installment was postponed from its original March 13 date after David contracted Bell's palsy.

Gordy -- who announced his retirement at the Motown 60th anniversary celebration during 2018 in Detroit -- and Davis spoke in-depth about the Supremes and how Motown launched Diana Ross as a solo act in 1970. "She never did come to me and ask to be solo," Gordy, who dated Ross for several years and had a daughter with her, said, explaining that the company "tried to figure out the best way we could handle it...and make it a positive rather than a negative." He called replacing Ross with Jean Terrell as "a two-for-one stock split," though the Supremes post-Ross was nowhere near as successful and he group disbanded in 1977.

Gordy, 91, also spoke about viewing Davis as both a friendly "competitor" and a teacher. "I was watching people like you...I learned a lot just by watching and competing against other record companies. I thought we were competitors, even though I cared about you a lot, and always will." Asked by Davis if he had any regrets about selling Motown, Gordy said he had none and treasured the memories he accrued while running the company.

"I have so many favorite memories," Gordy said. "I'm such a lucky man."

Mitchell, who has made few public appearances since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015, gave Davis a generous interview talking about her hit "Both Sides Now" and the trajectory of her music career. In particular the Canadian-born singer-songwriter said her jazz leanings really developed during her time living in Detroit during the mid-60s, when she was playing at the Checkmate club. She noted how the jazz musicians -- including some of Motown's Funk Brothers -- who played after her sets heard the jazz flavors in her music and would occasionally incorporate her melodies into their performances.

Brandi Carlile contributed one of the night's original performances, of "A Case of You," in tribute to Mitchell, following Mitchell's 2000 performance of a rearranged "Both Sides Now." H.E.R. also paid tribute to Prince with a new, string-laden version of his "Nothing Compares 2 U."

Other archival performances came from Manilow, Santana with Rob Thomas, Stapleton, John, Mellencamp, Da Baby (from this year's Grammy Awards), Queen (from Live Aid), Simon as well as Simon & Garfunkel, Judy Garland, Tina Turner and Earth, Wind & Fire.

During the show Davis did something he said he'd never done before -- name his favorite song ever, which was Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer." Winfrey revealed that the late Whitney Houston accidentally fell off the stage during a 2009 comeback appearance on her show -- something she'd never shared for fear it would be misconstrued.

Davis also shared a sweet memory with Elton John, about how, when they were to meet for dinner during the 70s, he brought John seven of the new albums released that day -- only to be "gently" informed by John that he'd already bought all seven that morning.

Mellencamp, meanwhile, revealed plans for a new stage musical "Called Small Town," whose main characters will be named Jack and Diane, from his hit song of the same name. He plans for it to open at some point in Birmingham, Ala. before hopefully moving to Broadway.

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