Ms. Houston was different.
Mr. Davis signed her in 1983 when she was just 19 years old, and he played an essential role on all but one album she recorded over the next 29 years.
He brought her songs and scouted producers. He introduced her at publicity events. He repeatedly extolled her supremacy over Mariah Carey.
At the peak of her life, she secured his place as an industry titan. In death, she haunts his legacy.
This past April, a laudatory documentary about him, âClive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Livesâ (based on his own memoir and available next week on Apple Music), opened the Tribeca Festival. A great party was given at Radio City Music Hall. Jennifer Hudson sauntered through the crowd singing a medley of Ms. Houstonâs greatest hits.
Then came mixed reviews â and the debut at the festival of âWhitney: Can I Be Me,â a contrasting documentary that casts Ms. Houston as a victim of the music businessâs most base inclinations. (It is currently airing on Showtime.)
Much like last yearâs Academy Award-winning documentary âO.J.: Made in America,â it raises difficult questions about race and arrives at the conclusion that there was a psychological cost to being a black superstar whose image was created with the express purpose of maximum crossover.
Kenneth Reynolds, who worked at Arista, the label founded by Mr. Davis and on which Ms. Houston made her career, recounts how material that âwas too black-sounding was sent back.â Kirk Whalum, who played saxophone on several of Ms. Houstonâs tours, describes a woman who became devastated to learn that black people were calling her âWhite-neyâ and a âsellout.â
Mr. Davis isnât the principal villain in this other film.
There is much blame directed at Ms. Houstonâs mother, the gospel singer Cissy Houston, and various members of the Houston clan, who had been on her payroll for many years.