Few people, if any, were surprised that the annual Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala — the music industry’s biggest and most exclusive event, held every year since 1976 on the night before the big show — would be virtual in this unprecedented year. However, many people were surprised that when the Grammys moved their date up several weeks, from Jan. 31 to March 14, due to the escalating COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles, that Davis decided to double down and hold two parties — one on the original date of this Saturday, and another on March 13.
While details are kept close, as always, the party will feature videos of what Davis deems 20 of the greatest live performances of all time (not performances from previous Grammy parties, as inaccurately reported), and Davis talking with the artists about them: Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys, Rod Stewart, Diddy, Jamie Foxx (pictured above with Davis in 2018), Barry Gibb, Earth Wind & Fire, Gladys Knight and more.
The shows will also feature several live performances, which Davis said would number “more than three but less than 10.” He also revealed that Paul Simon, Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell will be joining him for the March show.
The first night is a benefit for MusiCares — the Recording Academy’s charitable wing, which has distributed more than $20 million in COVID-19 relief to music people — while the second will be for the Grammy Museum. And while the ticket remains exclusive, the invite list is closer to 2,000 this virtual year than the usual 1,000 luminaries who traditionally gather at the Beverly Hilton.
Over the years we’ve seen unique and mind-blowing performances at the Clive party, from Beck playing David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” with members of Nirvana to Alicia Keys playing a medley of Jay-Z hits to Brandi Carlile delivering a stunning version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” while Mitchell looked on, and those are just three examples. To the credit of Clive and his attorney son Doug, who lead the elaborate organization of the party, the party invitation — a splashy and classy video — and its guest list have retained the vibe of the annual event, even though it’s virtual. RSVPs include House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara Boxer, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Cardi B, Jackson Browne, Tony Bennett, Billy Crystal, Sia, Uma Thurman, Megan Thee Stallion, Angela Bassett, basketball star Steph Curry, CBS anchor Gayle King, Khalid and many more.
Nearly every year, Davis sits down with journalists a couple of days before the party to talk about it; we try to pry details out of him and he gives a few. This year continued that tradition, although he was on the phone from Miami this time. Highlights from the conversation appear below.
How did the decision come about to do two parties?
As you know, the party is always the night before the Grammys, so we were working toward January 30 th and MusiCares was going to be the beneficiary. We had the evening about 80% scheduled, through the great [generosity] of the artists, when the Grammys more their date from Jan. 31 to March 14. Because of the urgent need for MusiCares, and because so much had already been scheduled, we decided that we had to keep the Jan. 30 date, and we’ll also have our traditional [date] on March 13, and on that night the Grammy Museum will be the beneficiary. So we have part 1 and part 2.
So the show we’ll see on Saturday is pretty much the exact one we would have seen even if the Grammys hadn’t moved the date?
Not “pretty much” — it will be! Yes, we continued with the plan as though the Grammys were on the 31 st.
It was reported that the evening will be archival video from past Pre-Grammy parties, and artists will be talking about them. Is that accurate?
No, that was actually a wrong piece of information that somehow [leaked]. I am not playing any archival footage from past Grammy parties: I am playing 20 of the greatest live performances of all time, with no connection to the Grammy party —jaw-dropping and spine-tingling [performances]. I’m not trying to label these as the greatest definitively of all time, but they’re certainly among the greatest live performances of all time. It’s wonderful to see, and those artists that are alive that are being represnted, some of them will be chatting with me about them.
So, for example, they’ll be something like the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show?
You know I’m not gonna give you advance notice (laughing), but yes. I don’t want to ruin the surprise about who made [the list], but it was a wonderful task, and for the March 13 show, it will be a wonderful task to pick another of the 20 greatest performances of all time and converse with the artists. And there’s going to be live performances, too.
I don’t want to give it away, but there will be more than three and less than 10.
And they’ll be performances of the traditional caliber of the Grammy party?
The quality of the artists and the special nature will be up to the quality and the uniqueness of a regular Grammy party, yes — but they’re not doing it on the stage with a 30-piece orchestra.
Since it’s been such a tumultuous year, do you plan to address the political discord of the past 12 months or pay tribute to the people we have lost to the pandemic?
I have no plans to address the political discord, and as far as COVID, this evening is a fundraiser for MusiCares, so every effort to raise as much money for it will be wrapped up in that. That is the cause — the need is so urgent that we couldn’t postpone it for another month and a half. That’s one of the two major reasons why we did not postpone this date and why it had to stay. We need to raise money for Musicares.
Obviously organizing any event in a pandemic is enormously challenging, but what were some of the biggest ones you faced this year?
Well, I had to go and ask Bruce Springsteen, Barry Gibb, Alicia Keys (laughing) and all the artists that if they’d be good enough to sit down with me. I’m thrilled, this is beyond any expectation and it’s a dream come true — have you seen the names that are appearing?
Yes, but I just can’t imagine anyone saying no.
Well, that’s very kind of you. And already for the March 13 show, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Carlos Santana have all wonderfully agreed to be with me. It’s very exciting, and my challenge is to keep everyone’s attention. If you’re in New Yorkm I’m sure you’ll be there until 11:00, and hopefully these artists talking with me will provide some great entertainment.
Since the show is virtual, are you inviting more people?
It’s certainly not unlimited, but I would think it would be instead of 1,000 it will probably be 2,000.
You usually call out various people from the stage and say a few words about them. How will that work this year?
You know how it’s gonna work? You’re gonna tune in and find out! (chuckling)