Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to both Whitney Houston and Leonard Cohen during Wednesday’s lively opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Hudson joined fellow performers Barry Manilow, Earth, Wind & Fire, Dionne Warwick, Carly Simon, and Aretha Franklin on stage at New York’s Radio City Music Hall following the world premiere of the Clive Davis documentary, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, which tracks the music legend’s life from his upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, to becoming one of the most powerful and influential record executives in history. (A popular refrain from the many, many iconic artists who feature in the film: “Thanks, Clive.”)
Hudson, who briefly appears in the doc, was second to perform after Manilow and kicked off her mini-set with a cover of Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
But after noting that without Houston, “there would be no Jennifer Hudson,” the Oscar-winning actress then segued into a medley of classic Houston tracks, including “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Both songs feature heavily in The Soundtrack of Our Lives — as does Davis’ relationship with Houston. In addition to footage of Houston’s first television appearance, a 1985 performance on The Merv Griffin Show, The Soundtrack of Our Lives includes an early demo of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” that Davis says could have been fine for an artist like Olivia Newton-John. But Houston’s take added what he called a “bottom” to the track that increased the sexual energy and excitement. It was the first No. 1 single off Houston’s second album and sold more than 4 million copies worldwide.
The Soundtrack of Our Lives is filled with similar moments, where Davis’ musical aptitude and “golden ears” are shown, time and again, pairing artists with songs that would make their careers. He turned Manilow into a top-selling recording artist and helped resurrect the careers of both Warwick and Franklin, the latter of whom closed the impromptu tribute concert with two songs, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Freeway of Love.”
It was a fitting cap to what became an outpouring of love toward Davis. As Simon, who earlier sang a mashup of “Coming Around Again” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (with help from a group of children) noted during her brief stop on stage, “Happiness is a man called Clive.”