Arista Records is an American record label. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment and operates under the RCA Label Group. The label was founded in 1974 by Clive Davis, who formerly worked for CBS Records. Currently, the label is a major distributor and promoter of albums throughout the United States and Great Britain.
After being fired from CBS Records
, Clive Davis
was hired by Columbia Pictures
to be a consultant for the company’s record and music operations. Assuming the presidency of this division in late 1974, Davis would fold the various Columbia legacy labels (Colpix Records
, Colgems Records
, and Bell Records
) into a new entity named Arista Records, ultimately buying a percentage of the company from Columbia.
The label was named Arista after New York City's secondary school honor society (of which Davis was a member at Erasmus Hall High School
). In early 1975, most of the artists who had been signed to Bell were let go, except David Cassidy
(left for RCA Records
), Tony Orlando and Dawn
(left for Elektra Records
), and the Fifth Dimension
(departed for ABC Records
). Others, such as Suzi Quatro
and Hot Chocolate
, were farmed out to the Bell/Arista-distributed label, Big Tree
. Several acts, such as Barry Manilow
, the Bay City Rollers
, and Melissa Manchester
moved to Arista. The British Bell label kept that name for a couple of years before changing its name to Arista. The label was immortalized in the 1978 Rockpile
song, "They Called It Rock", in the lyric, "Arista says they love you/But the kids can't dance to this."
Besides boasting such big name stars as Manilow, one of the pivotal moments in Arista's history was the signing of Aretha Franklin in 1980 after her long relationship with Atlantic Records ended. Four years later, the signing of a young, bubbly singer from New Jersey would lead to one of the most successful debut albums of all time. The singer's name was Whitney Houston.
Subsidiary imprint labels
Arista had an imprint label in the 1970s, "Arista Freedom," which specialized in avant-garde jazz
The label had another imprint label called Arista Novus, which focused on contemporary jazz artists.
A country music division, Career Records, was merged into the Arista Nashville
division in 1997. Arista Austin was used in the late 1990s as a country label.
In order to stave off bankruptcy, Columbia Pictures
first sold its Screen Gems-Columbia (Screen Gems
) music publishing to EMI
in 1976 and then sold Arista to German-based Ariola Records
in 1979. By 1986, after Ariola purchased General Electric
's RCA Records
, the combined company was renamed Bertelsmann Music Group
, though Arista's US releases did not note BMG until 1987.
Into the 1980s, Arista continued its success, including major UK act, Secret Affair. Over the years it acquired Northwestside Records, Deconstruction Records, First Avenue Records and Dedicated Records in the UK. In 1989, Arista entered into a joint-venture with Antonio "L.A." Reid and Babyface in the creation of LaFace Records. In 1993, Arista also entered into a joint-venture with Sean "P. Diddy" Combs to form Bad Boy Records. It distributed Heavenly Records and fully acquired LaFace Records in 1999.
Milli Vanilli scandal
In 1989, Arista signed a German-based duo named Milli Vanilli
, consisting of (Rob Pilatus
and Fabrice Morvan
), and released their wildly successful multi-platinum debut album (which had been previously released in Europe the year before), Girl You Know It's True
, the same year in the U.S. and Canada. The album became a success, was certified 6x platinum in America, and charted five top ten singles, three of which peaked at number one. In 1990, the duo won two American Music Awards
and a Grammy
for 'Best New Artist.' Later in the year, Milli Vanilli's svengali producer and manager, Frank Farian
, publicly revealed that the two hadn't performed a single note on their album. However, before the public admission, rumors had been swirling about the two. The lead singer of the short-lived group T'Pau
, Carol Decker, in an interview after a performance on MTV
, said that the two were using a Synclavier
and not singing at all.
This revelation caused a firestorm in the music industry, as recording artists, particularly pop acts which heavily relied on electronic processing and over-dubbing (so-called "studio magic"), were now under scrutiny and subsequently forced to cut back on lip-synching to show that they were authentic. Milli Vanilli's Grammy, meanwhile, was subsequently revoked. Clive Davis promptly dropped the duo from Arista and deleted their album and its masters from their catalogue—making Girl You Know It's True the largest-selling album to ever be taken out of print. A court ruling in the US allowed anyone who had bought the album to get a partial refund.
In response to the scandal, Arista's position was that the company had been completely unaware of Rob and Fabrice having not themselves recorded their album. In a post-debacle interview Morvan defended himself by saying, "[Before Milli Vanilli] I was working at a McDonald's.... What would you have done?"
At the end of 2000, following its 25th anniversary, BMG pushed Davis out as label head and promoted L.A. Reid
as its new President and CEO. Under Reid, the label saw success with newer acts like Avril Lavigne
. Reid, however, seemed to lose focus when it came to promoting its established acts like Whitney Houston
and Toni Braxton
, both of whom had been the label's biggest sellers over the years. Reid's extravagant spending, meanwhile, caused the company to lose money. After the merger of BMG with Sony Music Entertainment
in 2004, Reid was let go. Arista, always an independently managed label at BMG, was merged with J Records
in August 2005 and began operating under the newly formed RCA Records Group
—of which Davis had become CEO, and thus again in control of Arista. The Arista imprint has continued to be used for new releases, while its reissues are released through Sony BMG's Legacy Recordings
. Also, as a result of the Sony BMG merger, Arista is once again connected to Columbia Pictures
, which is fully owned by Sony
under its Sony Pictures Entertainment
division. To date, Arista's biggest selling recording artist is Whitney Houston
, whose sales, according to the Recording Industry Association of America
, stand at 154 million albums.
In 1989, Arista Records launched Arista Nashville
. It is the Nashville, Tennessee
based branch of Arista Records, and it specializes in country music
In 1996, Arista Nashville assumed a subsidiary label known as Career Records, whose roster at the time included Brett James, Tammy Graham, and Lee Roy Parnell.