Courtesy Avant Family
Clarence Avant, whose unofficial moniker “The Black Godfather” spanned the worlds of music, sports, entertainment and politics, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles, according to a statement from his family. The cause of death is not given; He was 92 years old.
“It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announces the death of Clarence Alexander Avant,” the statement from his sons Nicole and Alexander and son-in-law Ted Sarandos. Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence has become affectionately known as the “Black Godfather” in the worlds of music, entertainment, politics, and sports. Clarence leaves behind a loving family and a sea of friends and partners who have changed the world and will continue to change the world for generations to come. The joy of his legacy relieves the sadness of our loss. Clarence passed away gently at his home in Los Angeles on Sunday, August 13, 2023.”
Avant’s list of accomplishments is long, wide, and varied. Initially a nightclub manager, he spent the 1960s managing the likes of Lalo Schifrin and Jimmy Smith. He went on to found two record labels, through which he introduced the world to Bill Withers, Sixto Rodriguez, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. helped broker the sale of the legendary Stax Records in the late 1960s; After 30 years, he became Chairman of the Board of Directors of Motown Records, and later became PolyGram’s first African-American board member. He launched one of the first completely black-owned radio stations, and did not hesitate to take sides in defense of black culture as a consultant to MGM and ABC in the 1970s. He also served as a formal and informal advisor to Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.
But it is for his role as an industry mentor in the music business that Avant is perhaps most praised. In addition to Jam and Lewis, personalities as diverse as L.A. Reid, Babyface, Sylvia Rhone, Jheryl Busby, and Jimmy Iovine consider him a master. He convinced NFL star Jim Brown to start an acting career. He has been an active figure in politics since the 1960s, and will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Oct. 7. As Quincy Jones, Avant’s lifelong best friend, said, “Everyone in this business would have been next to Clarence’s desk, if they were smart.”
In an interview spanning 2016 with diverse, Avant made references to his mentors, Louis Armstrong and Barbra Streisand, former manager Joe Glaser, when asked about the breadth of his ambitions. “It all comes down to something Joe Glaser taught me: aim high,” he said. “You can’t walk the Empire State Building—you’ll get tired, and your knees might give in. But you can take the elevator and walk. You always aim here, and you walk later if you have to.”
Avant was born on February 25, 1931, in Greensboro, North Carolina. After overcoming the many hardships of apartheid, he grew to prominence beginning in the 1960s managing the careers of Schifrin and Smith, along with pioneering blues artist Little Willie John, singer Sarah Vaughan, and jazz producer Creed Taylor. The contract he negotiated with A&M Records for the latter put him on the music industry map as a dealmaker. In 1968, Avant orchestrated the sale of legendary powerhouse Stax Records (although the deal did not go well for the company’s founders and fell through several years later).
In 1967, he married Jacqueline Gray and had two children: a daughter Nicole Avant (former US Ambassador, political advisor, film producer and philanthropist, married to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos) and son Alex Avant, an agent, producer and actor. Based in Los Angeles. However, tragedy strikes the family in late 2021 when Jacqueline is shot and killed in an attempted burglary at the couple’s home in Los Angeles; She was 81 years old.
After moving to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, Avant formed his own record label, Sussex Records, and signed legendary soul singer Bill Withers among other acts. He bought KAGB-FM, making it the only black-owned FM radio station in Los Angeles at the time. He also worked closely with legends such as Muhammad Ali, who secured him a variety special on ABC; NFL Hall Of Famer Jim Brown, who helped him become a movie star; and Major League Baseball record-breaking Hank Aaron, for whom he negotiated the largest endorsement deal in the history of professional sports at the time. “Without Clarence Avant, there is no Hank Aaron,” Aaron later said in the documentary, “The Black Godfather.”
During the 1980s, he founded Tabu Records and released hits by SOS Band, Alexander O’Neil and Cherrelle, among others. He also worked closely with budding hitmakers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis—helping pair them with Janet Jackson to produce her 1986 hit album “Control”—and advised L.A. Reid and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds on launching LaFace Records. He was also the promoter of Michael Jackson’s first solo tour, the “Bad” Tour of 1988.
In 1993, Avant was named president of Motown Records after its sale to Polygram (both companies are now owned by Universal Music Group). He continued to manage his own in-house music group and Avant Garde Music publishing companies until they were sold in 2018 to Universal.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Lionel Richie in 2021, received the Industry Icon Award at the Grammys and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“My whole career has been like this,” Avant told Variety in 2016. “People ask me, ‘How did you do all this?'” “How f- do I know? I just do things. I just love to take pictures.”
Additional reporting by Andrew Parker.
. “Professional creator. Lifelong thinker. Reader. Beer buff. Troublemaker. Evil problem solver.”