February 23, 2009 12:00 PM

Clive Davis can hardly believe it’s been 35 years since he started bringing some of music’s biggest stars together for an exclusive pre-Grammy party. “I have to pinch myself,” says the Sony Music exec, 76, who was feted at the Recording Academy’s Salute to Industry Icons at the Beverly Hilton Feb. 7. For PEOPLE’s annual portrait of Davis’s artists, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood chatted with Kings of Leon as Sean Combs fixed Clive’s tie and Whitney Houston hugged Jennifer Hudson. “Being among these artists,” says Hudson, “is what I grew up dreaming of.”

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