In the first phase of his career, Davis was General Counsel of Columbia Records and was appointed Vice President and General Manager in 1966. In 1967 he was named President of the company. The Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967 confirmed what Davis had been feeling about rock: the new music was a powerful force, the artistic expression of an emerging culture. He personally signed Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and The Holding Company to Columbia. After that, he was directly responsible for the signing of many more landmark artists in the rock field, among them Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Santana, Boz Scaggs, Loggins & Messina, Laura Nyro, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and Earth, Wind and Fire. In addition to bringing this fresh, brand new talent to Columbia, he signed such artists as Neil Diamond, Pink Floyd, Herbie Hancock and The Isley Brothers.
While building the rock roster, Davis was also strengthening the label's catalog in all fields of recorded music, achieving historic success in the areas of r&b, country, jazz and pop music. He played a key role in the careers of Simon & Garfunkel, Sly & The Family Stone, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand and Andy Williams. Davis figured prominently in shaping career turning points for Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, and he signed Weather Report. Under his aegis, the company made a strong entry into r&b. Davis' deal with Gamble & Huff brought to the company the famed Philadelphia-International label, which had an enormous string of hits and set the course for black music in the '70s.
Davis left Columbia Records in May 1973 and, after writing the book, Clive: Inside The Record Business, a national best-seller in both hard cover and paperback, he founded with Columbia Pictures, Arista Records in the fall of 1974. The Arista Records hot streak began immediately. Only three months after the company opened its doors Barry Manilow's smash hit "Mandy" went straight to #1. Within twelve months of doing business, Arista had already scored four gold albums and by its third year had eleven gold and three platinum records.
Under Davis' leadership, Arista launched the careers of Whitney Houston, Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, Kenny G, Sarah McLachlan, Monica and Dido. The label also attracted such important artists as Aretha Franklin, The Grateful Dead, The Kinks, Lou Reed, Eurythmics, Dionne Warwick, Daryl Hall & John Oates, and Carly Simon.
Arista's Nashville division, begun in 1988, quickly became the talk of the industry with the discovery of a stellar lineup of stars led by Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, Pam Tillis and Brad Paisley. With over 150 major industry awards Arista Nashville set the pace for country music.
Analogous to his agreement with Gamble & Huff in the seventies, Davis made his agreement with L.A. Reid and Babyface to form LaFace Records in October 1989. During this time, LaFace built an outstanding roster of hitmaking artists including TLC, Toni Braxton, Usher, OutKast, and Pink.
In 1994, Davis and producer/entrepreneur Sean "Puffy" Combs entered into a 50/50 joint venture that resulted in the creation of Bad Boy Records with an artist roster that grew to include Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, Mase, 112 and of course Puffy Combs. Along with LaFace Records, Bad Boy became the most successful Hip-Hop and Rap label of the '90s, with a shelf full of Grammy, Soul Train and other industry awards. Bad Boy amassed sales of more than 12 million albums in its first three years, including five RIAA platinum and multi-platinum titles and ten RIAA gold.
Throughout the Nineties, Arista staked its place in music history time and time again. Specifically, superstars such as Whitney Houston, Santana, Monica, Sarah McLachlan and Deborah Cox broke records with their long-running chart-topping positions. In fact, Arista carved its niche as the only record label in the Soundscan era (whose tracking began in May 1991) to occupy the top three spots on Billboard's Hot 100 at one time. This occurred for a five-week period in 1995, when TLC's "Waterfalls" held strong at #1, while Monica's "Don't Take It Personal" and "One More Chance" by Notorious B.I.G. alternated at the second and third position. Arista later staked its claim to the top three positions on Billboard's Hot R&B chart in February, 1999 with "Heartbreak Hotel" by Whitney Houston, "Angel Of Mine" by Monica and "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" by Deborah Cox (which stayed at #1 for a history-making 14 weeks). All three singles were executive produced by Clive Davis.
For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2000, Arista Records posted its best ever sales revenues topping $500 million for the first time in domestic revenues with the greatest profits, as well, in the history of the company. This enormous accomplishment included 9x Grammy winner Santana, whose Supernatural album sold over 26 million copies worldwide. The album, which produced the #1 hits “Smooth” and “Maria Maria” (#1 record on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles for 12 weeks), marked the reunion of Carlos Santana and Clive Davis and the two accepted, as producers, the Grammy for Best Album of The Year. Also contributing to Arista’s outstanding year was the Grammy-winning Whitney Houston whose album My Love Is Your Love sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
Also, in 2000, Clive Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the only non-performer along with other legends such as Eric Clapton, Earth, Wind & Fire and James Taylor. Almost simultaneously, it was announced that the celebrated Arista chief would be the recipient of the Trustees Lifetime Achievement award by NARAS at the Grammy Awards.
The landmark year continued when NBC Television broadcast a two hour primetime special saluting Arista Records and Clive Davis entitled 25 Years Of #1 Hits: Arista Records Anniversary Celebration featuring performances by Santana, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Toni Braxton, Puff Daddy, Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan, Alan Jackson, Barry Manilow, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny G, Patti Smith, Monica, and many others. This once-in-a-lifetime concert special benefited AmFAR, City Of Hope, and T.J. Martell Foundation.
In August 2000, Clive Davis began a new phase in his career, announcing the formation of J Records. In partnership with BMG, this instant major represents the single largest label deal in the history of the business. J Records opened its doors with a prestigious senior team of executives and an incredible roster of stars and newcomers. The label quickly became the buzz of the industry with platinum success story after success story, beginning with Alicia Keys whose debut album Songs In A Minor sold over 10 million copies and swept the Grammys. Her second album, The Diary of Alicia Keys debuted at #1 and has since sold over 8 million copies worldwide.
J Records has emerged as a dominant music force with chart topping albums by Maroon 5 whose debut album sold over 10 million copies worldwide, Annie Lennox, Luther Vandross and Rod Stewart, whose four Great American Songbook Volumes returned him to the top of the charts selling over 16 million copies worldwide.
In early 2003, Clive Davis’ triumphant success at J Records led BMG to name him Chairman of the RCA Music Group, which comprises J and the legendary RCA label. This marked a bold new chapter for Davis, a fresh new challenge, as he headed the label steeped in tradition to greater glory. In short order he made his presence felt with blockbuster RCA albums by Christina Aguilera, Foo Fighters, Avril Lavigne, Dave Matthews and the new rock supergroup Velvet Revolver, plus on J Records he was again represented at the top of the charts by Jamie Foxx and Pearl Jam. Davis also inherited the American Idol franchise and made it his own, personally producing top-of-the-chart albums by Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Fantasia Barrino and Carrie Underwood.
With BMG soaring to new heights at the beginning of 2004, enjoying its biggest year to date, a major reorganization ensued and Clive Davis was appointed the Chairman and CEO BMG US Label Group. He oversaw an expanded RCA Music Group, including J Records, RCA Records and Arista Records, which reunited him with the label he created as well as many of the superstar artists he helped establish, including Whitney Houston, Sarah McLachlan, Santana, and Aretha Franklin. His reunion albums with Barry Manilow, the Greatest Songs of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies all entered the charts at #1.
In 2005, BMG merged with Sony Music to create SONY BMG ENTERTAINMENT, a new company that ranks as the world’s second largest record company. The venture marked another reunion for Clive Davis, this one with the company at which he started his illustrious career and in 2008, Clive Davis was appointed Chief Creative Officer for all of Sony BMG, a change in operational responsibility but an expansion of the artists he would now creatively be responsible for.
Davis' passion for music, though, is matched by a passion for helping his fellow man. The recipient of many Humanitarian honors from organizations such as the T.J. Martell Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Cancer Society, Davis began his tireless efforts in the battle against AIDS in 1985. One of the foremost leaders in the battle against the disease, Clive Davis has spearheaded the donation of millions of dollars to AIDS charities over the past 15 years. In early 1990, it was Davis who stepped in to save the faltering “Rock In A Hard Place" AIDS benefit show. With the resources of 15 years of star Arista talent, Davis decided to turn the company's 15th anniversary concert into a benefit. Featuring a stellar lineup of stars from the worlds of music, television and film, “That's What Friends Are For: Arista's 15th Anniversary Concert Benefit" took place in March of 1990 at New York's Radio City Music Hall. The event raised another $2 million to fight AIDS.
In 1995, Davis was once again named Humanitarian of the Year by the T.J. Martell Foundation, the first ever to receive this honor twice. And in 1998, Clive Davis was bestowed a Humanitarian Award from the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of HIV/AIDS research. In celebration, an affair which also recognized the humanitarian efforts of Barbara Walters and Tom Hanks took place where a dazzling array of Arista superstars including Whitney Houston and Sean "Puffy" Combs performed in honor of their friend and label head.
Celebrated for his impact on the music business, the New York Friars Club honored Clive Davis as its “Man Of The Year" in 1992. At the event, Mayor Dinkins proclaimed June 6th "Clive Davis Day" in New York City. In 1993, Davis was named “The Most Influential Record Executive Of The Past Twenty Years" by Radio and Records. In 1994, Davis was acknowledged by the American Cinema Foundation as “Man Of The Year." And in January 1997, Davis became the first active Record Company President to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
In 2002, Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and NYU alumnus Clive Davis, announced the record executive’s $5 million gift to the School for the creation of a new Department of Recorded Music. The Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music is the first of its kind to offer a four-year, degree granting undergraduate program that recognizes the creative producer as an artist in his own right and musical recording itself as a creative medium. In preparing young people, the Department will educate them in all aspects of contemporary recorded music. That year, he was saluted by the New York Landmarks Conservatory as a "Living Landmark" along with Barbara Cook, Peter Martins and Mike Wallace and he also received the coveted NARAS Heroes Award. The Heroes Award honors outstanding individuals whose creative talents and accomplishments cross all musical boundaries and who are integral to the vitality of the music community.
In June 2003 the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame, the organization dedicated to recognizing the work and lives of those composers and lyricists who create popular music around the world, made Clive Davis the recipient of its 2003 Hitmaker Award, awarded the previous year to Garth Brooks.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Clive Davis was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of New York University, where he received his B.A. magna cum laude and he graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.
He resides in Manhattan with two sons and a daughter residing in the metropolitan area and one son living in Los Angeles.