By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Major music legend Clive Davis begins his recent memoir by informing his readers, “I’m a Brooklyn boy. I was born on April 4, 1932, and grew up in Crown Heights, in an apartment at 1321 Union Street.” Most are well aware of Davis’s later career trajectory, and we certainly recognize the stars he worked with as major talents and celebrities. Yet despite his five-decade successful career in the music industry – complete with six Grammy Awards – Davis discusses in detail his humble beginnings. In fact, his book, “The Soundtrack of My Life,” starts out with a chapter entirely devoted to Brooklyn memories.
In this section, titled “Straight Out of Brooklyn,” Davis reminisces on his days exploring Coney Island, roaming the boardwalk, riding the Cyclone rollercoaster, and spending time on the beach with his family. He goes on to describe his neighborhood and school: “Believe me, there were not many kids named Clive in Crown Heights…The youngest male child in a Jewish family, I felt very much cared for, and I loved my home and neighborhood…I always liked school as well. I attended P.S. 161 on Crown Street between Nostrand and New York Avenues…” Davis even acknowledges a specific teacher he had in third and fourth grade, remembering how she organized a game that ignited his competitive spirit and academic drive.
“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 recalls. “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. Every night you’d solve neighborhood, local, personal, and world problems sitting on the stoop.”
Davis describes the trips he took with his father to Prospect Park and 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, enliven the games with evocative reports.
For the young Davis, traveling to Downtown Brooklyn – not Manhattan – was considered a big adventure. “Most typically, we’d go to local movie houses like the Kameo Theater on the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Eastern Parkway or the Savoy on Bedford Avenue.” He reflects on his high school education at Erasmus Hall in Flatbush, noting that Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond are also among the school’s distinguished graduates.
Davis earned a full scholarship to New York University and later earned a degree from Harvard Law School. While he began his career as a lawyer, he transitioned into the music industry and became involved in developing various genres, including rock, pop, R&B, country and hip hop. He has discovered and promoted some of the industry’s most renowned talents, including Aretha Franklin, The Grateful Dead, Billy Joel, Aerosmith, Whitney Houston, Carlos Santana, Carly Simon, and Alicia Keys, among numerous others.
“The Soundtrack of My Life” – which is co-written by Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis – includes some juicy insights into Davis’s personal and career choices, offering readers a captivating account of his momentous life. While the book reveals Davis’s memorable encounters with such celebrities as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Janis Joplin, some of the moist poignant moments in “The Soundtrack of My Life” are Davis's memories of his early years spent growing up in his beloved Brooklyn.