Thursday, May 30, 2024

Superstars Santana and Rob Thomas, Dionne Warwick, Fantasia, John Mellencamp Rock Carnegie Hall for Clive Davis, NY Pops


EXCLUSIVE Well, this was a night people will be talking about for years to come.

Clive Davis organized a night for the NY Pops to raise money on their 41st anniversary. The Pops played and saluted him with a couple dozen of his most artists including Barry Manilow, Melissa Manchester, Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas, Fantasia, Deborah Cox, and Valerie Simpson.

John Mellencamp performed tributes to both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

Art Garfunkel literally brought down the house with “Bridge over Troubled Water,” accompanied by his son as if no time had passed in the 54 years since he first sang with Paul Simon.

The New York Pops — conducted by the masterful Steven Reineke — rose to the occasion of more than two dozen classic pop hits of all different genres. It was quite a task and they were more than up to it.

There were stars in the audience, of course, including Nancy Pelosi and husband Paul, Gayle King, Ari Melber, Tony winner Danny Burstein. “Living on a Prayer” songwriter Desmond Child, the (former) New Radicals Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, and most of the guests I told you about from Sunday night’s dinner at the River Cafe.

It was quite a crowd that came to see this spectacular two and a half hour show that featured one show stopper after another. The artists were kept mostly to one song apiece lest the night go on forever. Each spoke briefly about their relationship to Davis over the last 60 years. Some, like Diane Warren — whose song “Unbreak my Heart” by Toni Braxton was loving performed by Tony winner Adrienne Warren — were very funny. Others like Carlos Santana, were spiritual (“Clive, you are the highest miracle in my life,” he said.)

The Pops opened with an overture medley of songs associated with Davis from “The Sound of Silence” to Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” to “I Will Always Love You.” Then Barry Manilow appeared with a special song written just for Clive, plus his hit, “Mandy,” and a surprise at the end of the show.

How often can you every number was a highlight of the show? Dionne Warwick made her hit, “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” soar, and then closed the show with “That’s What Friends Are For.” Melissa Manchester caused sobbing with her anthem, “Don’t Cry Out Loud.” Valerie Simpson was just great in a tribute to Aretha Franklin on “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me” joined by Rob Thomas. And that was after Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana peeled off their massive hit, “Smooth,” with the latter just searing the strings on his gold guitar.

Clever? How about Patty Smyth covering Patti Smith’s “Because the Night”? The two singers have been confused for each other for years, so Smyth decided to tackle Smith’s biggest number — and nailed it. (“We’re always getting each other’s mail,” she joked. Husband John McEnroe got a kick out of that!)

Fantasia — straight off her success in “The Color Purple” — brought down the house also with her cover of “Summertime,” the Gershwin song that made her famous on “American Idol.”

There was a surprise “American Idol” appearance by Ruben Studdard, who dazzled on Luther Vandross’s “Dance with My Father.” People forget that Clive Davis was a groundbreaker, exclusively signing “Idol” stars for the first seven or so years. Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, etc all started with him.

There were other tributes. Deborah Cox was absolutely sensational on “I Will Always Love You.” (She’s on Broadway right now in “The Wiz.”) Brandon Victor Dixon and Shosanna Bean came from Alicia Keys’s musical, “Hell’s Kitchen,” and brought the audience to its feet with “Fallin’,” which they do so well on Broadway. The audience swooned for Kenny Babyface Edmonds, and jumped out of their seats for Busta Rhymes. Ray Parker, Jr. got the place jumping with “Ghostbusters.”

Clive started the show with 19 year old Courtney Hadwin, a star from “America’s Got Talent,” who gave a startling read on Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” And R&B singer Avery Wilson invoked swooning 70s soul on “Me and Mrs. Jones” and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”

At a dinner following the show at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the auctioneer almost wound up giving Nancy Pelosi a new career — conducting the New York Pops. She didn’t bid, someone else did with Pelosi at the podium as an idea. Alas, that man was outbid and Pelosi must return to saving the country.

For the guests who’ve been going to Clive Davis’s annual pre-Grammy dinner in Los Angeles, some of this was old hat. We’ve seen these remarkable concerts play out in five hour chunks. But for the bulk of tonight’s audience — and the music students who were given free tickets — the night was a glorious banquet of the greatest pop music in history. They never jumped to their feet so much during one show, and they floated out the door when it was all over.

PS Even with all these artists Davis’s career also includes Chicago, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, The Grateful Dead, the Kinks, and another three dozen acts that could be covered in a series of concerts! The range is astounding!

refresh later Tuesday for more pictures

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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