Joni Mitchell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Neil Sedaka, Diane Warren and Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow were among those who attended an intimate dinner and screening of Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen Of Soul Thursday night, hosted by Clive Davis.
The event, held at the Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles, came four days before the special airs on CBS March 10 at 9:00 p.m. Hosted by Tyler Perry, the two-hour tribute to the late legend Aretha Franklin (who died last August at the age of 76) features performances by Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar, Alessia Cara, Brandi Carlile, Chloe X Halle, Kelly Clarkson, Common, Celine Dion, Fantasia, H.E.R., Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Patti LaBelle, Janelle Monáe, Smokey Robinson, SZA, Rob Thomas, and BeBe Winans.
At the dinner, Davis, Sony Music’s chief creative officer, warmly remembered meeting with Franklin in the late ‘70s a few years into his tenure running Arista Records. Franklin was nearing 40 and her last two records had not performed well. Aware of the success Davis was having with reviving Dionne Warwick’s career, Franklin called the executive to invite him to dinner for a home-cooked meal.
“That’s something I never imagined happening in my lifetime,” Davis said. “It was just Aretha and myself. She said, ‘Do you think I can have hits again?’” Davis’s answer was a resounding yes, and at Arista, Franklin has a strong second act that included such hits as “Freeway of Love,” “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” with George Michael, “Jump To It” and “Who’s Zoomin’ Who.”
In addition to Portnow and Davis, others attending the dinner who were involved with the special included executive producer Ken Ehrlich and music director Rickey Minor. Also in attendance were record producer Harvey Mason Jr., who is co-producing a biopic on Franklin’s life starring Jennifer Hudson, as well as Narada Michael Walden, who produced some of Franklin’s biggest ’80s hits, including “Freeway of Love” and “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).”
Walden, who also produced Carlos Santana’s new single, “In Search of Mona Lisa,” wore a vest with Franklin’s first name running down the front right side, telling Billboard he wore the vest for the last seven shows he played with Franklin, as her drummer, before her death.
While much of the talk revolved around Franklin, the guests also discussed upcoming projects. Warren, who celebrated her 10th Oscar nomination this year, has another potential contender for next year’s Academy Awards with “I’m Standing With You,” a song she wrote for Breakthrough, a film inspired by the true story of a 14-year old boy who was declared dead for an hour after drowning. His mother entered the room praying and the boy revived. This is Us’s Chrissy Metz plays the mother and sings Warren’s end title song. She was also reunited with legendary producer Richard Perry, who produced Debarge’s Warren-penned “Rhythm of the Night,” a Billboard Hot 100 top 5 hit in 1985. “I used to call him the professor,” she said. “He would grade my lyric sheets.”
Sedaka, who brought his wife Leba, is gearing up to celebrate his 80th birthday on March 13. “I’m going to celebrate with family, and then the next day with friends, and then the day after that with family and friends,” he told Billboard. To commemorate the special occasion, SiriusXM’s 50s on 5 will play Sedaka songs throughout the day. Sedaka still performs around 10 concerts a year. He told Billboard he selects the ones that “pay me the most money and are the easiest travel.”
Other attendees included Motown founder Berry Gordy and Clarence Avant, Hitco executives L.A. Reid and Charles Goldstuck, Jimmy Jam and former Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace.