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It’s not easy to choose which of CLIFTON DAVIS’many accomplishments is most noteworthy, although writing “Never Can Say Goodbye,” made famous by The Jackson 5 and recorded by dozens of other artists, may be the one most people are familiar with. Now, after a long and enviable career, the singer, songwriter, actor, and minister can chalk up another success, because he is finally releasing his debut jazz album called NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE.
It has taken many years for Davis to record this CD, but that’s mainly because he’s been so busy starring in Broadway shows and on television. Davis has been performing pretty much his whole life. His family relocated frequently when he was young, because his father was a pastor who moved often to lead different congregations. Davis credits their peripatetic lifestyle with his ability to navigate the vicissitudes of the entertainment industry.
Davis was working at the ABC television studios in New York City, repairing video equipment, when he saw his first Broadway show. Although the technician job was lucrative and fun, Davis was so smitten by Broadway that he decided to finally follow his dream, so he quit his job to work in Summer Stock theater in New Jersey. His life really changed when he went to an open audition for “Hello Dolly” on Broadway, starring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and was cast as an ensemble singer and understudy.
“Hello Dolly” led to opportunities as both an actor and a songwriter, including a stint at Motown from 1971 to 1976, where he wrote songs for the Jackson 5, the Supremes, Dianna Ross, and The Miracles, among others. In the early 70s, he also appeared on Broadway in “Two Gentleman of Verona,” for which he received a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.
His many television credits including co-starring with Melba Moore on their own musical variety series in 1972 and on “That’s My Mama” from 1974 to 1975. Then, in 1981, Davis had a spiritual awakening and withdrew from the limelight for almost five years to pursue an ecclesiastical education. He got a BA in Theology from Oakwood University and a Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University, and became a licensed minister. He has shared his interdenominational ministry around the world for over 30 years while maintaining a very busy performance schedule.
Ironically, Davis was offered a part on a television show as a minister very soon after obtaining his masters degree. He co-starred with Sherman Helmsley for 5 years on the popular NBC television series, “Amen,” and went on to guest starring roles in many television series and movies. His most recent television credits include recurring roles on “Madam Secretary,” starring Tèa Leoni, from 2015 to 2019, and on “The Godfather of Harlem,” in which he portrayed the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in 2019. Among his other recent credits, Davis spent four years on Broadway
in Disney’s “Aladdin,” in which he originated the role of Sultan, and he performed for 16-months in the National Broadway Tour of “Wicked.”
For NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE, Davis teamed up with Beegie Adair and her trio. Adair is among the biggest sellers in the jazz genre. With 2 million albums sold and sold out performances internationally, the Beegie Adair Trio is one of the most successful working groups in the world. Davis met Adair at one of her shows at Birdland in 2015, and the two hit it off immediately. Not only was Davis a big fan of Adair, but Adair was a big fan of Davis. At his wife’s , they agreed to do a project together. The album is a true collaboration between Davis and Adair, and Davis made sure the Adair took a solo on each tune.
Also joining Davis on NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE are the renowned vocal group TAKE 6, who backs up Davis on the title tune, and vocalist MONICA RAMEY, who sings a duet with Davis on “Two for the Road.” MARK KIBBLE, from Take 6, also adds backup vocals on several tunes.
NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE comprises three songs penned by Davis, a tune by Adair, and several well-known standards. The album is lush and romantic, burnished by Davis’ smooth, warm voice and Adair’s laid back, virtuosic piano playing. Strings arrangements add to the music’s dreamy sonority. Although he’s sung “Never Can Say Goodbye” in live performances, this is the first time Davis has recorded his famous tune. When Take 6 agreed to be on the album, they insisted on singing backup on that song. “Swept Away” is another Davis original, which he debuts on this album. Davis loves Brazilian music and the language so much, he taught himself Brazilian Portuguese. The music for “Swept Away” was inspired by a trip to Brazil, and Davis wrote the lyrics after meeting his wife. An ordained minister, Davis always includes one song in his act that praises God. He closes the CD with “Leaving It Up to You,” his statement of faith. Because the album is collaborative effort, Davis wanted to pay homage to Adair and includes her love song “Minha Alma, co-authored by Lori Mecham”.
Also included on NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE is “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” from the show Guys and Dolls. It was sung by Sky Masterson, the lead role that Davis played in Las Vegas. Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road” has a Parisian feel with the addition of the accordion, played by Nashville musician Jeff Taylor. Davis was almost moved to tears when he heard a female singer perform “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” many years ago. Although he could no longer remember the singer’s name, her rendition of the tune affected him so deeply that he wanted to include his version on this project. Adair suggested “Too Marvelous for Words.” Joe Williams was Davis’ friend and one of his idols, and Davis included the tune as an homage to Williams. Inspired by Barbra Streisand’s version of “So Many Stars,” Davis also added some Portuguese lyrics to the tune. “Começar de Novo,” (Starting Over) by Ivan Lins, was a huge hit in Brazil. The tune in English is called “The Island.” The English lyrics, though lovely, mean something completely different than the Portuguese lyrics. Davis sings the original lyrics on this album.
“Somewhere in the Hills” reminds Davis of a trip to Brazil when he went to a Samba school in the hills of Rio de Janeiro where thousands of people rehearsed for the Carnival parade.
“Teach Me Tonight” is another tune that Adair brought to the table.
Countless numbers of people have enjoyed Davis’ stage and screen career, as well as the tunes he composed for some of the biggest names in music. On NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE, Clifton Davis and Beegie Adair, two master artists, have created a sumptuous and sensuous feast for the ears.
Multi-talented entertainer Clifton Davis talks about his stellar career, performances, and being on Broadway in Wicked.