Stevie, Gladys, Wyclef Come out for New J Records; Santana Voices Support
The invitation to Clive Davis's annual pre-Grammy dinner and show promised talent this year that's "off the hook." No kidding. Davis, the master showman, had to top himself from previous spectacular outings just to launch his new J Records label. So he did.
Imagine on one stage in one night Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Angie Stone, Luther Vandross, Wyclef Jean and Mary J. Blige, Dido, hit soul singer Joe, and Clive's absolutely sensational new star Alicia Keyes, who knocked the audience out at the Beverly Hills Hotel main ballroom.
And what an audience too: record biz heavyweights like Ahmet Ertegun, Dick Clark, Quincy Jones, Mo Ostin, Herb Alpert, Suzanne de Passe, Warner Bros' Linda Moran and Dick Parsons, Irving Azoff not to mention stars, stars, stars of all kinds: Jackie Collins, Chaka Khan, George Benson, 'N Sync, Babyface, Carlos Santana, Brian McKnight, Sharon Lawrence, Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, Kathie Lee Gifford, Carson Daly and Tara Reid, David Foster and Linda Thompson, Melissa Etheridge, Kenny G, Boyz II Men, Gloria Estefan, and who else? They're still trying to make lists.
Forget Oscar and Tony. Per square inch, Clive got more shining stars in one room than anyone has in recent or distant memory. Grammy academy president Michael Greene even introduced Clive, giving the evening an official seal of approval.
So much gossip went on that heads were bursting, minds were reeling, eyes were bulging. Santana, who had his big hit last year, decided not to go with Davis to the new J Records, and stayed behind at Arista. But Davis will executive produce his new album. Wasn't being at the dinner an overt sign of support for Clive? Santana told me: "I'm with Clive. That's all that matters." His appearance was a heavy statement though.
And where was Whitney Houston? On vacation in Africa we were told. She was missed, but Keyes — who is 20 years old, drop-dead gorgeous with training as a classical pianist — has a voice that is all her own and will very shortly will be the story of 2001. Davis, who discovered Whitney, Janis Joplin, revived Aretha, now has one more fledgling diva in his pen.
As usual, Gladys and Stevie managed to hijack the show. Gladys performed: "Neither one of Us" and "Midnight Train to Georgia," bringing the audience to standing ovations over and over. I hear that Knight — who currently records for MCA — is close to signing a deal with Davis at J Records. Stevie, coming off his Monday night performance at the Paul Simon tribute, was in rare form. He put on a show with many well known numbers like "I Wish," "My Cherie Amour," and "Living for the City," then threw in an unreleased song and made Luther Vandross learn it on the spot and sing it for the audience. The song was great. Stevie said, Clive this song is perfect for Luther's new album! And he was right.
Meanwhile, the unexpected hit of the night was Wyclef Jean, who has a label with Davis for his new Clef Records. Wyclef told me that he'd like to move his entire operation over to J and away from Columbia Records, where he records as a solo artist. Columbia, I am told, still holds out hope for a Fugees album. But I am also assured this will never happen, as Lauryn Hill is not going to record with Wyclef again.
But Wyclef's album Ecleftic was one of the true joys of the last season. On stage last night he performed "911" with Mary J. Blige and they were a phenomenal hit. To this reporter's thinking, Wyclef is the Stevie Wonder of this generation. He just needs the right forum. Wyclef's producer, Jerry Wonder (no relation to Stevie) proved to be his greatest asset Tuesday night, whooping it up enthusiastically for each performer and generally carrying. At the end of the night, he gifted this writer with his walking stick, a black and white baton that I will treasure for all time. In exchange, we're pretty sure he got a pretty female magazine writer who was sitting at our table. Everyone got what they wanted, which is more than you can usually say for these events.
A brilliant night all the way around. More to come tomorrow along with Grammy reports and news. And Alicia Keyes — well, remember in May that you read about here first...