'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' is on Apple Music now

By Nick Maslow
October 06, 2017 at 07:00 PM EDT
Larry Busacca/WireImage

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Clive Davis shaped the careers of artists like Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys. Now he’s reliving the magic in Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, a Chris Perkel-directed documentary on Apple Music. Below, the 85-year-old music exec refuses to pick favorites, shares his concerns about hip-hop’s domination, and previews the most emotional part of the doc: his plea for Houston to get help before her death in 2012.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The film explores Houston’s addictions. At one point you read a letter that you wrote to her. What runs through you when you watch that?
CLIVE DAVIS: 
The greatest of pain and tragedy. I wrote her that letter after I saw her at the [Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration in 2001] at Madison Square Garden, where, as the film shows, she was quite the skeleton while performing. It brought a gasp to me and the realization of how serious her drug problem was. Of course, I wrote the letter and tried so hard. Eventually, she did go to rehab and we were hopeful that after the interview with Oprah Winfrey that she had permanently eradicated this terribly lethal problem. Knowing that she did not beat it, there will always be pain at her much-too-early passing. Though, in a hard-hitting way that brings tears, the film shows a more complete picture of who Whitney was than anything I’ve seen come out to date.

Of the hits you’ve had a hand in making, what’s your favorite?
It’s like asking who’s your favorite child. Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” was the first record that I even attempted to be involved with, and she was the first artist I signed. That is memorable.

From guiding Gil Scott-Heron — who is considered the first rapper — to financing Bad Boy Records, you played a big role in supporting hip-hop. What do you think of the genre’s evolution?
Right now the domination of hip-hop is perhaps too dominating. I love hip-hop. I was glad to be there at the beginning, but I’m concerned about where the next Aretha or Whitney is coming from. Mainstream urban [music] should not be 100 percent hip-hop. I know there’s a big public as well for the greats like Luther Vandross, and they should not be relegated just to adult play. I think that is narrowing the opportunity for genius at various levels to be discovered and listened to.

What did you realize about your life while participating in this documentary?
It was a revelation when I saw the first cut because the filmmakers were in control of what artists were interviewed and what they explored. Whether it be Patti Smith, Dionne Warwick, Barry Manilow, or Simon & Garfunkel, I was most moved by the realization of the reciprocal impact of our lives together and that the interactions between us as much as 40 or 45 years ago are as special to them as they are to me.

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