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Grammy gets in the partying mood, takes on Clive Davis' annual gala*

January 6, 2009 | 12:12 pm
Leona_lewis_gr_500

The most talked-about pre-Grammy happening is now officially sanctioned by the Recording Academy. The annual industry buzz event/party hosted by music-biz veteran Clive Davis is, for the first time in its 30-year history, a Grammy-endorsed affair.

The Recording Academy announced this morning (Jan. 6) that it was partnering with Sony Music's chief creative officer to host the annual dinner and concert, held the night before the Grammys on Feb. 7 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. Davis' party has had a reputation in recent years for introducing the world to younger mainstream talents such as Alicia Keys and Maroon 5.

Recording Academy head Neil Portnow, who worked under Davis in the late '80s running the West Coast Arista office, says the initial mission of presenting fresh talent will continue to be a focus of the event. If anything changes, Portnow says gala will have a broader focus in terms of what labels are represented.

“He’s a master of putting that evening together, and [Clive] has created an iconic event,” Portnow says. “We respect that, and think it’s a great part of the allure. There’s no need to do things radically different. I think if there’s one difference culturally, in the past this has been a project that has involved his label, wherever he has been over the years. That now shifts, so it it’s not label-centric in any fashion.”

In recent years, the party has seen an influx of "American Idol"-bred artists, with the likes of Fantasia, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood given showcase slots -- artists signed to the J Records label Davis founded. They performed among such industry heavyweights as the Foo Fighters, Christina Aguilera and Carlos Santana, among others. Last year's event was a coming-out party for Leona Lewis, the English-born R&B pop singer who won "The X-Factor" in her native country. 

Davis will continue to host the party, and characterizes the relationship with the Recording Academy as a "long-term arrangement."

“When [the Recording Academy] came to me, it unofficially recognized my official intent,” Davis says. “I’ve always operated over the years that this was an industry party. Yes, it was personalized based on new artists, and existing artists that came out of BMG. But I’ve had on that stage artists from all over the industry -- Grammy nominated artists from Kanye West to Black Eyed Peas.”

The party, which Davis has said is paid for largely by sponsorships, will now become one of the Recording Academy's showcase pre-Grammy events. On Feb. 6, the Recording Academy's charitable arm, MusiCares, will host its annual fund-raiser honoring Neil Diamond at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Slated to perform are Jennifer Hudson, Josh Groban and Coldplay, among others.

The Recording Academy did not announce any of the artists scheduled to perform at what it's officially calling the Pre-Grammy Gala. Davis will be presented with the Recording Academy's "salute to industry icons" at the party; previous recipients of the award include Ahmet Ertegun, Mo Ostin and Herb Alpert.

Last spring, Davis was replaced by Barry Weiss as the chairman and chief executive of BMG Label Group and then named to the newly created role of chief creative officer worldwide for Sony Music Entertainment. The move handed Weiss the reins to such labels as RCA Records, Jive, J Records and Arista.

Portnow is open to broadcast opportunities for the gala, and last year, portions were streamed online. But don’t expect a big blowout on television.

"These events are live and relatively intimate, and there’s a certain comfort the artists have in that they are of the moment and not necessarily broadcast for television," Portnow says. "A live broadcast changes the culture of it. We want to be careful about keeping the vibe and the feel that you get in the room and not getting too far down the road in thinking that it’s a television show."

--Todd Martens

Photo: Leona Lewis at last year's pre-Grammy party. Credit: Associated Press

*Updated from an earlier post to include comments from Portnow and Davis. 

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