David Foster on his charitable work and collaborations with Céline Dion, Whitney Houston and Neil Young

Legendary Canadian producer David Foster discusses his philanthropy and the highs and lows of working with major music stars.

Music icon receives Junos 2019 Humanitarian Award for work helping children in need

Producer, arranger and composer David Foster in the Glenn Gould theatre in Toronto. Foster has worked with countless superstars, including Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Andrea Bocelli and Madonna. (Anand Ram/CBC)

Renowned music producer and composer David Foster has worked with superstars like Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Michael Bublé and Andrea Bocelli, but he says some of his most rewarding work has been with the families of sick children.

The National's Andrew Chang sat down with Foster to talk about his charitable work, some memorable moments in his career and his latest big project.

  • WATCH: The National's interview with David Foster tonight on CBC Television and streamed online

David Foster Foundation

Foster is best known for his music, but his philanthropic work goes back more than three decades.

It began in earnest in 1986, when he met a young girl who needed a liver transplant. He helped pay for some non-medical expenses related to her hospitalization and then decided to figure out a way to assist others in the same situation.

It led to the David Foster Foundation, which offers support to the families of children in need of organ transplants.

Foster on his charity work

4 years ago
Duration 0:21
Juno Humanitarian Award Winner David Foster discusses the foundation he started in 1986 that helps families with children in need of organ transplants.

"It's been lifesaving for over 1,000 families now," says Foster.

Foster received the 2019 Humanitarian Award at a Juno gala in London, Ont., on Saturday night. The award was presented by Music Canada in recognition of his lifelong dedication to philanthropy, and his support of dozens of charities along with his own foundation.

Tears are Not Enough

In 1985, with the famine in Ethiopia getting the world's attention, Foster produced a who's-who of Canadian stars in the recording of the fundraising song, Tears are Not Enough.

"I was an incredible taskmaster and control freak," says Foster, reminiscing about the project. "I made Neil Young sing [his line] at least 13 times. He must have wanted to kill me."

Foster on working with superstars

4 years ago
Duration 0:41
David Foster, known for his production work with Céline Dion, Michael Bublé and others, talks about what it takes to get the best out of a performer, while reminiscing about his work with Neil Young on the 1985 fundraising single Tears Are Not Enough.

But Foster makes no apologies for pushing Neil Young — or any other performer he's worked with.

"I will do whatever it takes to get the best out of the singer," he says. "I have to have eight takes, 10 takes, so that I can get the very best out of them and create a vocal track that sounds like it was made in one take."

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston's 1992 cover version of Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You is one of Foster's most successful productions. The single spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.

"I caught Whitney at her finest moment, vocally," Foster says.

"I got her most days after she'd been filming, and she'd come to the studio late at night. And it was really tough on her. But she would just step into the studio, rip off her coat and go, like a racehorse. It was incredible. We had a great time together."

David Foster on arguing with record executive Clive Davis

4 years ago
Duration 0:45
Music producer David Foster reminisces about his fight with record executive Clive Davis over the 1992 Whitney Houston hit I Will Always Love You.

Before putting the finishing touches on I Will Always Love You, Foster sent record executive Clive Davis a rough mix. It was just meant as an update of a work in progress, but Davis was blown away by the mix. He insisted that they release it as is.

Foster was not pleased.

"I had done a bunch more work on the song. And I liked the extra work I'd done. But Clive Davis liked the rough mix. And we argued," recounts Foster.

"I was literally yelling at him … but he got his way."

The album went on to win a Grammy for Record of the Year, along with countless other awards.

Céline Dion

Foster was an early booster of Céline Dion, and played a key role in bringing her voice to English audiences. He fondly remembers first hearing her sing at a Sunday afternoon picnic in a tent in Montreal in the md 1980s.

"It was insane. It was pouring rain. There were people talking and not paying much attention to her ... and I'm like, are you hearing what I'm hearing?" he says. "And it took her years to become a star."

David Foster on hearing Céline Dion sing for the first time

4 years ago
Duration 0:35
Arranger, composer and producer David Foster talks about hearing Céline Dion sing for the first time.

When Dion went down to Los Angeles to work with Foster, he says he told her: "You're going to be known by your first name only. They won't even have to say your last name."

The two of them had great success together, with hits such as The Power of Love, All By Myself and Surrender.

Foster and Dion continue to be good friends, but they did have a major disagreement in the mid-1990s. Dion and her manager-husband René Angélil asked Foster to produce a song for the soundtrack of the movie Titanic. The song was My Heart Will Go On.

"I just wasn't a fan of the song," says Foster. "I thought it was a melody that should never have lyrics to it and never be sung. I said, 'I don't want to produce this song, I don't like it.'"

So Foster sat on the sidelines for that one, and My Heart Will Go On became known as one of Dion's signature songs.

Although he still doesn't like it, Foster concedes that he clearly misjudged the song's potential.

"Hey, If you're gonna be wrong, you gotta be wrong big."

Current Tour

Foster has just wrapped up a U.S. solo tour, and is set to travel across Canada for a series of shows.

"All of the artists I've worked with get to have that feeling after they've left me of performing those songs that we've worked on together, and getting feedback from the audience. And I've never had that," he says.

"So I've started touring, and it's felt good."

Producer, arranger and composer David Foster talks with The National’s Andrew Chang, in the lobby of the Glenn Gould Theatre in Toronto. (Anand Ram/CBC)

Foster has lived in Malibu, Calif., since the 1980s, but he has always kept close ties to Canada, and says he is excited about the cross-country tour.

"I'm a huge flag-waver. I love telling people I'm from Canada. It's going to be fun."

  • WATCH: The National's full interview with David Foster:

David Foster on philanthropy, collaborating

4 years ago
Duration 11:14
Legendary Canadian music producer David Foster discusses his charitable work and his collaborations with Céline Dion, Whitney Houston and Neil Young. He is the recipient of the 2019 Junos Humanitarian Award.


Greg Hobbs

Senior Media Librarian/Producer

Greg Hobbs is a senior media librarian and producer with The National.


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