Music Attorney Doug Davis Combines Career Success With a Passion for Causes

Legal eagle learned about mortality early in life. He now gives back to the communities he cares about most.

Music attorney Doug Davis
Weston Weston Wells

About a decade ago, when Doug Davis was 35, he was experiencing what he assumed were your standard, garden-variety symptoms of indigestion and heartburn. Not one for running to the doctor for what he presumed to be a minor ailment, the preeminent entertainment and sports attorney and founder of the New York-based Davis Firm, contemplated heading to the pharmacy.

But the pain persisted, then worsened. Finally, Davis made an appointment with his physician. There followed a string of events that would forever, in his words, “change the course of [my] life.”

“The doctor ordered an emergency appendectomy and, when I woke up, [he] told me that they had found a carcinoid tumor while they were removing my appendix,” says Davis, Variety’s 2018 Power of Law honoree.

“It turned out it had spread to one lymph gland and it would likely have spread throughout my body,” he recalls. “It probably would have become terminal had I just gone to the pharmacy and gotten, say, Mylanta. I found out afterward that the inflammation of the appendix that was caused by the tumor would have gone down, the irritation would have disappeared, I would not have gone to the doctor, and I would have been dead in two years.”

Following the discovery, Davis underwent “a couple of surgeries and treatment” that, he says, “really changed me as a person.”

Davis, who is also the founder and CEO of DJDMP, a global boutique pop music label and publishing administration company, and the co-founder of DJDTP, a music production company, had never led a humdrum life to begin with.

His father is the legendary, multi-Grammy-winning record producer and music executive Clive Davis, who helped launch the careers of such iconic acts as Aerosmith, Barry Manilow, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Whitney Houston. Growing up, Doug attended Manhattan’s tony Dwight School and, on holidays, the Davis family —including Doug’s sister, Lauren, and two brothers, Fred and Mitch — would jet off “with other record executives and their families” to exotic resort locales such as St. Barts and Jamaica, or escape to their 17-acre weekend retreat in Pound Ridge, N.Y.

But they “weren’t vacationing with the talent or artists,” assures Davis.

“My father raised us like any other kids in New York, outside the industry,” he says. “We did not have access to talent, we did not have access to celebrities. We weren’t allowed to come to the Grammy party until we were 16.”

There were, of course, certain colorful, if kid-friendly, perks to having a record mogul as your father. Like that time Davis and his brother got to hang out with Manilow’s dog, a Beagle named Bagel. In the late ’70s, Bagel was one of the most famous dogs in pop music, appearing with Manilow on stage during concerts and on several of Manilow’s album covers, including the triple platinum-selling “Trying to Get the Feeling Again.”
“Barry was my first concert. It was at the Nassau Coliseum,” says Davis, a “fanilow” by birthright. “I remember him coming out in a glitter suit doing ‘Copacabana.’”

After high school, Davis earned a bachelor’s degree from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse U. and next enrolled at Fordham U. School of Law, graduating with his J.D. Since then, he’s become one of the biz’s most notable dealmakers, representing high-profile clients ranging from Swizz Beats and LL Cool J to Apple executive Larry Jackson and a bevy of NBA players.

Davis is also an avid art connoisseur, with a collection that includes works by Banksy and Shepard Fairey.

Around 2009, Davis met the emerging street artist Mr. Brainwash, a protege of Bansky, and offered to represent him as a client —in exchange for artwork. In 2015, Davis co-curated, along with street art legend Roger Gastman, Work In Progress, an art gallery that features the creations of Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and Sage Vaughn.

Among his accolades in the legal profession: in 2018, US News & World Report named the Davis Firm as best law firm in America.

But since his transformative brush with death — “his rebirth,” as he calls it — giving back to the community has become Davis’ passion. He’s on a long list of board positions on myriad high-profile philanthropic organizations.

“Having faced [cancer] and being told how I had just missed that type of fate, that did have a centering effect on me,” he says. “I wouldn’t say it was a higher-power type of feeling, but maybe the fact that it was so random… it made me feel lucky. The dice rolled my way, and I appreciate that. I’m not going to waste it. I look at the unique position we have as attorneys in the music business. We have these platforms to be able to do good in the world.”

Davis currently sits on the boards of the Music for Youth Foundation, the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York U. and Fuck Cancer, an organization that focuses on prevention and early detection of the disease.

In 2014, Davis received the prestigious Amsterdam News Education Foundation Entrepreneur Award at the Amsterdam News’ 105th Anniversary Gala, celebrating the oldest African-American-owned media company in the U.S. and was the honorary chair of the Carcinoid Cancer Awareness Network’s Celebration of Life gala.

Additionally, Davis has been a featured speaker at events for performance rights organization ASCAP, Brooklyn Law School, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the Copyright Society of the USA, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and the UJA-Federation of New York’s Emerging Leaders and Philanthropists program.

He also serves on the Entertainment Committee for the annual Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) Gala and has served on the board of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society. Plus, over the past several years, Davis has been honored by organizations such as the American Cancer Society’s Riviera Ball and Debra of America, a foundation to raise awareness and funds for the treatment of epidermolysis bullosa —“the butterfly disease” — a rare genetic condition characterized by skin fragility and painful blisters.

“It’s a horrible, heart- wrenching condition,” says Davis. “And you have to support those charities for diseases nobody wants to talk about, that are ugly and you don’t want to look at. That touched me as much as anything else I’ve done.”

Considered one of his crowning achievements in the realm of giving back, for the past decade, Davis has served on the executive committee of the Duarte, Calif.-based City of Hope National Medical Center, a world-renowned hospital and research center for patients with chronic illnesses, including cancer and diabetes. Each year, Davis works alongside Steve Schnur, worldwide executive president of music for Electronic Arts, Evan Lamberg, president of North America Universal Music Publishing, and David Renzer, chairman and CEO of Spirit Music Group, to steer the center’s annual Songs for Hope fundraising event.

Thus far, Davis has helped raise about $3.5 million for City of Hope.

“My cancer initiatives are near and dear to me,” says Davis. “When I’ve spoken about City of Hope over the last few years, I always talk about the compassionate care of patients, because having been someone in that position, having gone through the system, having dealt with the uncertainty of doctors with dueling opinions and the anger you feel towards people that haven’t had cancer… I understand what that’s like.

“I went to multiple hospital systems in my journey. One thing that made want to support the City of Hope is the people in the organization who put so much time into outreach to the patients and their family — beyond the medical treatment. They are unique, the campus environment is unique. The compassionate care is part of the reason I’m involved with them.”

When he’s not focused on work or philanthropic pursuits, Davis is at home with his fiance, stylist Jessie Muscio, and their two daughters.

“I really am a family-first kind of person,” he says. “I go home every day from 6 to 7 [p.m.] to be with the girls, and then I go out to drinks or dinner afterwards. I am raising my children the way my mother raised us, outside the scope of being in the entertainment industry.”

What happened to him before — the cancer, the trauma of what could have been had he not gone to the doctor when he did — all that, says Davis, has brought him to a moment in his life of immense gratitude and a continuous pervasive desire to help as many people as he can.

“I think a lot of people have late-in-life reflections about their priorities and want to focus on giving something back when they start feeling their mortality,” says Davis. “I don’t see what I went through at 35 as a negative. I was able to reflect on my mortality at such an early age that it allowed me to focus on giving back much earlier in my life. Because of that, I think I’ve lived a much more rewarding life over the last decade.

Davis adds: “Certainly I’ve been able to have much more of an impact in the areas that I’ve focused on — fundraising and philanthropy — in a way I never would have done if this hadn’t happen to me.”