When you think of an epic way to kick off a film festival, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t “celebrate one of the music industry’s biggest moguls.” But when it’s someone like Clive Davis, the night turns into exactly what the opening of a film festival should be: A star-studded affair including an insightful and heartwarming documentary, all topped off with performances from a lineup of legendary artists.
That’s exactly what happened Wednesday night (Apr. 19) at the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Instead of involving a gathering of film’s most famous names, the night marked the world premiere of Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, a documentary honoring the impact the renowned music exec has had on the industry through the eyes of Davis himself and those who’ve worked with him over the last 50 years.
If you thought you had a pretty good idea of who Davis is and what he’s done for music, the documentary makes you realize there’s so much more to him than the artists he’s discovered and built — which includes Whitney Houston, Barry Manilow, Alicia Keys, Janis Joplin, Dionne Warwick and countless other superstars. It’s a story of turning unexpected happenings into untouchable success, all while depicting the heart and passion that is Mr. Davis. As Babyface put it in the film, “He’s a music man and that’s what he lives for.”
The names that gathered to honor Davis at a post-screening concert was indicative of the impact he’s had on music: Barry Manilow, Jennifer Hudson, Earth, Wind & Fire, Dionne Warwick, Carly Simon and Aretha Franklin (“all of them fresh from not performing at the inauguration,” Tribeca co-founder Robert DeNiro jokingly declared in his introduction). Manilow began with a medley of his hits, including “Mandy,” “Copacabana” and “I Write the Songs,” first acknowledging Davis, “What a life….and I was there!”
Hudson then took the stage, singing a soulful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” followed by a tribute to the late Houston — who Davis treated like a daughter, as depicted in the doc — jumping in the crowd during “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to dance with attendees and the man of the hour. Earth, Wind & Fire performed their biggest sing-alongs like “September” and “Shining Star,” even joined by Kenny G for “The Way You Move.” Dionne Warwick and Carly Simon delivered classic performances as well, but perhaps the most unforgettable part of the concert portion was Aretha Franklin singing “(You Make Me Feel) A Natural Woman.”
With all of these performances, it was almost easy to forget that the event was kicking off a film festival rather than something music-related. But with a career and legacy like Davis’, it’s hard to deny that anyone was more deserving of this kind of opening night dedication — no matter the event.
And if this film and surrounding celebration is any indication of what the 16th year of Tribeca Film Festival is going to be like, get ready for one heck of a fest.
Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives ?will be available on Apple Music following its appearance at Tribeca?.