Clive Davis is one of the greatest names in the music industry. He’s headed major record labels like Columbia, Arista and RCA. He’s discovered, signed and/or produced such world-renowned artists as Carlos Santana, Janis Joplin, Laura Nyro, Earth Wind and Fire, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Donovan and countless others.
But when he was given the Key to the City at Brooklyn Borough Hall by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday morning, these accomplishments were not what he chose to dwell on. Instead, he talked about his boyhood in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
His childhood and teen years, he said, were marked by “punchball, stickball in the street on Union Street, touch football in Prospect Park.”
He also visited his grandparents every weekend in Brighton Beach, and near that area he experienced Lundy’s, the boardwalk games in Coney Island and more. “And then in my neighborhood, Grand Army Plaza, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden,” Davis said.
Because of the beneficence of fellow New Yorkers, he said, he received scholarships to both NYU and then Harvard Law School after his parents both died due to “the then-incurable malady of high blood pressure.”
De Blasio, in his speech honored Davis, praised him for his role in organizing this past summer’s “We Love New York: The Homecoming Concert” in Central Park. “When I asked him,” de Blasio said, “he instantly said not just yes, but I’m going to make it happen and it’s going to be one of the greatest collections of artists you’ve ever seen. That is love and commitment for the City of New York.”
Davis, a graduate of Erasmus High School, also talked about his Brooklyn boyhood in his book, “Soundtrack of My Life.”
“Life in Brooklyn was very self-contained, and I felt completely at home there. Our neighborhood was about 80 percent Jewish, but there were enough Irish and Italians to make it somewhat of a melting pot,” Davis recalled. “The neighborhood teemed with so many children … Because there was no air-conditioning, whole families would sit out on the stoops when evening came. The men would crowd outside the candy store waiting for the early editions of the next day’s newspapers to arrive, and the women would chat with one another and watch the children play.”
In the same book, Davis also described the trips he took with his father to Ebbets Field. At a young age, he became a devoted Dodgers fan, and when he wasn’t at the stadium, he’d listen to Red Barber, the team’s announcer.
If you’re wondering how Davis got from Harvard Law to the music industry, he was hired at 28 to be assistant counsel of Columbia Records. As part of a reorganization, he was appointed administrative vice president and general manager. And in 1967, he was appointed president and became interested in contemporary rock music. He attended the Monterey Pop Festival and immediately signed Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company.
The Key to the City is considered the city’s highest honor. Mayor de Blasio was there for a “City Hall in Your Borough Hall Brooklyn” press conference.