The Clive Davis party was called for 6:45 in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton. On the fourth floor, Whitney Houston was dead, and her floor was sealed off by police. Celebrities began arriving, but some of them — like Mary J. Blige– didn’t actually make it until well after 10pm. There was confusion about walking the red carpet, doing press, what to say or wear. Clive Davis came in through a back door, did no press, and took a room above the ballroom where he tried to compose himself–and a speech. He was visited by just a couple of close friends–like Sean Diddy Combs and songwriter Diane Warren. Combs wound up being a godsend. His speech at the start of the party was so disarmingly eloquent that it saved the night. It was magnificent.
The dinner guests–many of whom were confused, unhappy, but talked about Whitney and tried to make sense of the whole thing–included Quincy Jones–bereft, he just sat down at his table and received visitors. “I went through this with Ray Charles, with Michael Jackson, and now this with Whitney.” He just shook his head. At almost 80, he’s seen everything. He talked to Gayle King for a while. Valerie Simpson, whose husband Nik Ashford died last year, and who wrote “I’m Every Woman”–a big hit for Whitney–was beside herself. This was her first real public outing. It didn’t help that later when Diana Ross showboated onto the floor to sing another Ashford-Simpson hit, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”–she acknowledged neither Houston nor Simpson.
Elsewhere: Gladys Knight, the legend, who left early. A group of 70s singer songwriters who’d seen drugs take their friends–Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, all superstars, sat together. Todd Rundgren made a rare appearance. There were Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Phil Ramone, Toni Braxton, Diana Krall and Elvis Costello, Carole King. There was a Hollywood table: Jane Fonda and Richard Perry, Peter Fonda, Joan Collins and Jackie Collins. Paul Shaffer brought his 18 year old daughter Victoria.
Mostly, people talked about Clive Davis, how he’d been a father figure to Whitney, and their concern for him. Everyone in the music business knows what Clive–who has four children and six grandchildren–did for Whitney. Nothing worked. When she improved, he was encouraged. When he got negative reports, he was devastated, like a parent who couldn’t come up with a solution. This went on and on for years.
More guests: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, the famous folk and pop singer Donovan, cast members from “Glee,” singer Anthony Hamilton, Patti Austin, Nigel Lythgoe, India.Arie, Vivi Nevo, Ron Burkle. Sean Parker, of Facebook and Napster fame. Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas, Dr. Dre, George Schlatter, the legendary producer of “Laugh In.” And Clive loyalists like Nikki Haskell, Barbara Davis, Arnold Stiefel (newly svelte), Larry King, Denise Rich, David Foster, Penny Marshall, Kathy Griffin. They all “knew”–they’ve followed the stories for years.
And more: a decidedly low profile Brett Ratner, Princess Eugenie of the UK (Fergie’s daughter), Quinton Aaron from “The Blind Side.” Execs from every record company. And so on.
Tony Bennett opened the show with a somber “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” Diana Krall, worried about the whole event, followed with a jazz anthem. The Kinks’ Ray Davies kicked up the energy with a medley of his hits accompanied by Elvis Costello and Jackson Browne. I thought Ray did the classiest thing of the night. He’d been rehearsing his song “Days” for three days.
But instead of waiting to sing it in full with Costello, he came out on stage and sang just the first verse a capella, spur of the moment. It was so touching and completely right: “Thank you for the days/Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me/I’m thinking of the days/I won’t forget a single day, believe me/I bless the light/I bless the light/I bless the light that lights on you believe me/And though you’re gone/You’re with me every single day/ Believe me.”