Clive Davis Convinced Whitney Houston to Sign With Him by Agreeing to an Unheard of Clause in Her Record Contract

One of the closest people to Whitney Houston throughout her lifetime is Clive Davis. Houston’s iconic status is due to Davis’ influence. He signed Houston as a teenager and their relationship lasted until Houston’s death in 2012. Davis says Houston only signed with him after agreeing to a clause in her record contract that has never been included previously. 

Clive Davis and Whitney Houston
Clive Davis and Whitney Houston | Lester Cohen/WireImage

Two other record companies vied for Whitney Houston

Two other record companies were in competition for Whitney to sign with. She performed background vocals at her mother Cissy Houston’s live stage performances. Midway through Cissy’s set, Whitney would perform solos. Cissy used the moment for Whitney to shine and get attention from label heads.

Whitney Houston and Cissy Houston
Whitney Houston and Cissy Houston 1989 | Larry Busacca/WireImage

In 1982, Whitney auditioned for Bruce Lundvall, President of Elektra Records. At the time, Elektra was home to many rock artists but was looking to bring in more soulful acts under their newly formed jazz division. Lundvall wanted to sign Whitney but Whitney explored all of her options. 

At the same time, Whitney was also considering signing with Epic Records. The label was famous for its diverse artist roster, which included Michael Jackson and Gloria Estefan. 

Whitney Houston signed with Clive Davis after Davis agreed to an unheard-of clause

Davis was the head of Arista Records when he first heard of Houston. As buzz began generating around Houston and the battle between Epik and Elektra grew more intense, Davis knew he had to make a huge move.

Davis explains in a forward of Houston’s 35th anniversary of her debut album that Houston signing with him came down to a specific clause in her contract.

Clive Davis and Whitney Houston
Clive Davis and Whitney Houston 1984 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“Whitney would only sign with us if she was given a key man clause that stated she would only work with me: if I were to leave the company for any reason, she could leave as well,” he writes. “At that time, Arista was part of RCA Records. We had never given that clause to any artist (and never would again), but in view of my passion, the RCA board approved it…and our lifetime musical adventure began.”

Clive Davis became Whitney Houston’s friend and lifelong mentor

Davis’ investment in Houston was so deep that it took two years to complete her debut album. It was important for Davis to find the perfect songs and craft the right image for Houston as he knew she’d be a timeless artist. 

Clive Davis and Whitney Houston
Clive Davis and Whitney Houston 2011 | Kevin Winter/WireImage

Related: Whitney Houston Produced Some of Your Favorite Family Movies

Houston remained with Davis for the entirety of her career, which spanned nearly 30 years. In that time, under Davis’ direction, Houston released over a dozen albums including soundtracks and compilation albums, starred in five films, and produced sold-out world tours.

Of Houston, Davis told Rolling Stone in 2019, “She became the greatest singer of her generation. She had a vocal genius. She could transform a song and make it different.”

Houston also made Davis the godfather of her only child, Bobbi Kristina Brown.