BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
NEW YORK - For decades, Clive Davis’ annual Pre-Grammy Gala has been one of the toughest tickets to score during the run-up to the awards show.
At Saturday night’s bash at the Sheraton Times Square, fans clamored in the lobby of the hotel, craning to catch a glimpse of familiar New York faces including Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey and Paul Shaffer.
A few floors up, Davis, the 85-year-old music impresario and founder of Arista Records, presided over the event that kicked off with a performance from longtime friend (and, incidentally, the artist who gave Davis the idea to host a party before the Grammys all those years ago) Barry Manilow, who honored his Brooklyn roots with “This is My Town,” from his current album of New York-themed songs, and the iconic “New York, New York.”
Others on the performance lineup included Atlanta rap trio Migos (nominated for two Grammys), the thrice-nominated Luis Fonsi (of “Despacito” fame), Logic and Gladys Knight.
The Davis shindig has also served as the backdrop to the presentation of the annual Grammy Salute to Industry Icons Award. On Saturday, the honor was bestowed on Jay-Z for his contributions to music and business.
The superstar rapper – who is nominated for a leading eight awards at Sunday’s Grammy ceremony – didn’t walk the red carpet, but slipped in to be seated with wife Beyonce.
Before the ceremony, Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences said that typically, the Industry Icons awarded are those on the executive side of the business.
But, he said, “When I thought of this year, being in New York, being an anniversary (of the Grammys)… Jay is left brain, right brain, a brilliant genius. Not only has he influenced music through his music, but he’s influenced the music business through his vision.”
Here are some other tidbits from attendees on the red carpet:
Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley – an Augusta native - will always be a diehard Georgia Bulldogs fan, but said the team’s National Championship loss was “a bit of a gut punch.”
“I drove down with Jason (Aldean) on his bus and Thomas Rhett was in another bus behind us and we were all excited. It happened so fast. We were literally turning around high fiving when we sacked (Alabama’s) quarterback and we turned around and the ball was in the air, caught, and (the loss) happened so fast.”
Kelley will be at the Grammys on Sunday with bandmate Dave Haywood, but not Hillary Scott, who is due to give birth to twins “any minute.”
Kelley is excited about Lady Antebellum’s two nominations, and even though the bad is competing with fellow Georgians the Zac Brown Band in one category, Kelly isn’t too nervous.
“I love Zac Brown. Honestly, he’s so talented. But I’m just gonna sit back and watch Chris Stapleton win everything.”
Songwriting maven Diane Warren is nominated for a Grammy AND an Oscar for “Stand Up for Something,” which she co-wrote with Common (who performs on the song with Andra Day).
“The song’s really connected,” she said, noting its use with the NAACP, CNN’s “Heroes Tribute” and the “Time’s Up” and #MeToo movements. “There’s nothing like the power of music…It’s so timely with what’s going on with this administration and our rights – and it’s all kinds of rights. I’m also a big animal rights person.”
Another top songwriter, Shelly Peiken (Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Celine Dion, Demi Lovato) is nominated for best spoken word album for “Confessions Of A Serial Songwriter” and said while rap isn’t one of her genres, it’s an “unbelievable art form.”
“It’s loosened up the conversational nature of pop songwriting and it’s loosened up tight rhymes and given us so much more territory to explore. I think rap has been very liberating.” What’s changed in pop music, she thinks, is, “it’s very fast paced and we just move from song to song.”
Luis Fonsi was inescapable last year with his Justin Bieber-guesting hit, “Despacito.” But he’s hardly the overnight sensation some might think, having toiled in the music business for two decades.
“It’s been a wild ride. I’m trying to take it all in and enjoy every second of it,” he said. “I talk about this every day - I’ve done 10 albums, tours, I’ve been through the ups the downs. You get to appreciate how hard it is to be at the top and how grateful you have to be to be given this opportunity. I’m very happy that it came at this point in my career, that I have a family that I can celebrate it with. My kids, even though they’re very young, I hope that one day when they grow up they’ll be proud of their Pops.”
Tony Danza is starring in a new Netflix series, “The Good Cop,” in which he stars with Josh Groban.
“Josh is terrific,” he said. “I just wrote him an email the other day that I was so impressed with not only his work, but his work ethic. He’s gonna surprise a lot of people because he’s funny and touching and smart and he does it all without singing.”
Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is excited to see a smidgen of Broadway make it to the Grammy stage, when Patti LuPone – with whom he famously feuded in the mid-‘90s – reprises her 1981 Grammy performance of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from “Evita.”
“I saw a run-through a couple of days ago. They’re taking an awful lot of trouble over it and I’m deeply grateful.”
Webber confirmed that his relationship with LuPone has been mended.
“I had to congratulate Patti that not only is she singing (the song) in the original key - which is something some of the Evitas of her time would not get anywhere near - but I think just based on the short time that we worked together, I think her voice is in the best shape I ever saw it. It’s lovely to have worked with her again.”