Musical legends brought down the house at the opening night of the 16th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival. The event was one part fete for music powerhouse Clive Davis, and also a parade of some of the biggest living artists who bloomed under his tutelage, mixed in with some pot shots at the current White House administration.

Robert de Niro gave a shout out to the group of artists including Barry Manilow, Jennifer Hudson, Earth Wind & Fire, Dionne Warwick, Carly Simon and Aretha Franklin who each did short sets on the stage of Radio City Music Hall where director Chris Perkel’s doc Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives debuted.

“All of them are fresh from not performing at the inauguration,” said DeNiro who along with Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal kicked off the lengthy night of festivities, including the two-hour film, subsequent concert followed by an after-party at Tavern On the Green in Central Park.

“Tonight is a dream come true,” commented Mr. Davis ahead of the premiere Thursday. “I was born in Brooklyn and didn’t get to Manhattan until the age of 13, when I went to Radio City Music Hall for a friend’s birthday. For my documentary film to open the Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City is incredibly special.”

DeNiro, apparently, was the ringleader in recruiting the night’s musical lineup.

“I learned that Robert de Niro personally approached artists I had worked closely with to perform tonight,” added Davis. “When I was informed about which artists were performing, I was emotionally very touched. Just reading their names speaks for itself.” Davis also gave his footnote to the new administration, saying he is “tremendously disappointed” at the proposed budget cuts to cultural funding including the National Endowment for the Arts.

“They are dangerously misguided, as is the questioning of the urgency of the need to deal with climate change and the environment.”

Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives spans Davis’ expansive five-decade career from finding Janis Joplin at the Monterey Pop festival in 1967, through the decades to being a central figure in the careers of Bruce Springsteen, Santana, Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, Alicia Keys, Sean Combs and many more.

Above all, Whitney Houston looms large in the feature, and was a huge presence in the room during the concert. Some attendees later noted while exiting Radio City that the late singing superstar was its own mini-documentary within the film.

Jennifer Hudson brought the crowd to its feet with a medley of some of Houston’s greatest hits, including I’m Every Woman, How Will I Know and I Want To Dance With Somebody.

In the documentary, Davis said he had been given an early copy of an early version of the 1992 film, The Bodyguard in which Houston starred opposite Kevin Costner. Davis was against her doing the film and said that the initial cut he viewed was anything but up to snuff.

“There was so little music in the movie, you didn’t know why she needed a bodyguard,” Davis said in the film, which mustered a good round of laughs from the audience. He suggested a performance be added and of course, the result was her cover of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, which proved to be a boon to the movie.

As the Radio City portion of the night came to a climax, Aretha Franklin took the stage. Whoopi Goldberg, who served as the de facto mistress of ceremonies during the concert seemed lost for words introducing the artist who will retire later this year. Franklin apologized in advance that she “may miss some notes,” due to a respiratory infection, but said she would not have missed the night no matter what.

Praising Clive Davis she said, “He’s not only the chieftain who sits in his office taking care of his business, he takes care of his artists as well. He is a great record man and a humanitarian.”