Arista (pronounced /ˈɛərɪstə/) is an American record label. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment and operates under the RCA/Jive Label Group. The label was founded in 1974 by Clive Davis, who formerly worked for CBS Records (which would become Sony Music Entertainment). Currently, the label is a major distributor and promoter of albums throughout the United States and United Kingdom.
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 Pictures. 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 5th 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 and Dionne Warwick; 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. The label's most significant acquisition, however, came in 1983, when Davis signed Warwick's cousin (and Franklin's Goddaughter) Whitney Houston. Houston would eventually become Arista's biggest selling recording artist, with sales of 55 million units in the U.S. alone—according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Subsidiary imprint labels
Arista had an imprint label in the 1970s called "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. Additionally, Arista was the North American distributor of Jive Records from 1981 until 1987. During the 1990s, Arista also distributed the Logic, Rowdy and Heavenly labels.
Looking to stave off bankruptcy, Columbia Pictures sold Arista to German-based Ariola Records in 1979. After Ariola purchased General Electric's RCA Records in 1986, the combined company was renamed Bertelsmann Music Group, though Arista's US releases would 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, which it fully acquired in 1999. In 1993, Arista also entered into a joint-venture with Sean "P. Diddy" Combs to form Bad Boy Records. Arista acquired Profile Records, the home of Run-D.M.C. and Poor Righteous Teachers, in 1997.
Milli Vanilli scandal
In 1989, Arista signed a German-based duo named Milli Vanilli, consisting of Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan, and released its 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 sextuple platinum in the United States, 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 Award for Best New Artist. Despite their success, rumors began to surface about the duo, and were confirmed later that year, when Milli Vanilli's svengali producer and manager, Frank Farian, publicly revealed that the two hadn't performed a single note on their album. Carol Decker, the lead singer of the short-lived group T'Pau, 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 that heavily relied on electronic processing and over-dubbing (what they referred to as "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 Award was subsequently revoked. Clive Davis promptly released the duo from its contract and deleted the album and its masters from their catalogue—making Girl You Know It's True the largest-selling album to be deleted. A court ruling in the U.S. 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 Morvan and Pilatus 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 had success with newer acts such as Avril Lavigne and Pink, as well as legacy acts like Outkast and Usher. Reid, however, seemed to lose focus when it came to promoting its established acts such 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 formation of the joint venture of BMG and Sony Music Entertainment (the former CBS Records) 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 Music Group—of which Davis had become CEO, and thus again became in control of Arista. The Arista label has continued to be used for new releases, while its reissues are released through Sony Music's Legacy Recordings. Also, as a result of the Sony-BMG merger, Arista once again became related to Columbia Pictures, which is fully owned by the Sony Corporation of America (through Sony Pictures Entertainment) - who would buy out BMG's share in 2008.
In 1989, Arista Records launched Arista Nashville, which specializes in country-music artists. In 1996, Arista Nashville launched a subsidiary label known as Career Records, the roster of which at the time included Brett James, Tammy Graham, and Lee Roy Parnell.