Clarence Avant, the beloved recording industry insider whose work as an executive, label owner, dealmaker and mentor earned him the nickname the “Godfather of Black Music,” has died. He was 92.
Avant died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles, his family announced in a statement. His death came 20 months after his wife of 54 years, philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, was shot and killed by an intruder in their Beverly Hills home in the early morning hours of Dec. 1, 2021.
Survivors include their daughter, Nicole Avant, a former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas and the wife of Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos, and their son, Alexander, a producer (Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!) and talent rep.
“Clarence leaves behind a loving family and a sea of friends and associates that have changed the world and will continue to change the world for generations to come,” the Avant/Sarandos family said. “The joy of his legacy eases the sorrow of our loss.”
Avant managed Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Smith, Lalo Schifrin and Freddie Hubbard and brokered the sale of Stax Records in the 1960s; discovered and signed “Ain’t No Sunshine” singer Bill Withers in the ’70s; co-promoted “Bad,” Michael Jackson’s first solo world tour, in the ’80s; and served as Motown’s chairman of the board in the ’90s after its sale to PolyGram.
Through the decades, Avant advised countless producers, executives and artists, among them Quincy Jones, David Geffen, Jay-Z, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Pharrell Williams, Whitney Houston, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Lionel Richie, Jimmy Iovine, Irving Azoff, Reginald Hudlin, Sylvia Rhone, Queen Latifah, Jheryl Busby, Jon Platt, Sean Combs, Snoop Dogg and Jamie Foxx.
“He’s a teacher, he’s a master communicator, he’s the perfect marriage between street sense and common sense,” Richie said when Avant received the Ahmet Ertegun Award from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021. “What he did for us, the sons and daughters of the Afro American community, he brought us some understanding of what the music business was all about.”
“He’s always told me the damn truth in all aspects of my life,” Jones said in 2016 at Avant’s Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony. “He’s also been the silent architect of so many deals it would make your head spin. He gets things done but doesn’t beat his chest or look for credit.”
Avant was the subject of the Netflix documentary The Black Godfather (2019), directed by Hudlin and produced by his daughter. He was an active political fundraiser, and Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Andrew Young express their admiration for him in the film.
His story “is important to me not just because it’s my father, but it’s a story of civic engagement, social activism and the power of giving back. I want people to be inspired to help others and share the blessing,” Nicole Avant told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s premiere. “Sometimes real power is behind the scenes, helping people achieve their dreams.”
“He puts people together, and they do what they do,” Withers said in the documentary. “How do you put together a life from knowing people? I’ve never seen him with a tool.”
The oldest of eight kids, Clarence Alexander Avant was born on Feb. 25, 1931, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Raised by a single mother, Gertrude, a domestic worker, he dropped out of Dudley High School at 16 and moved to New Jersey.
Avant began his career in music by managing a lounge owned by jazz musician Teddy Powell in Newark, New Jersey. Early on, he represented blues artist Little Willie John, jazz organist Jimmy Smith and jazz producer Creed Taylor and was mentored by Louis Armstrong’s music manager, the mob-connected Joseph Glaser.
Avant partnered with rock ‘n’ roll producer Tom Wilson in the Wilson Organization, moved to Los Angeles to work with Schifrin of Mission: Impossible and Mannix fame and helped set up the MGM Records-backed Venture Records, the first joint venture between a Black-owned music company and a major record label.
For Stax, Avant negotiated the 1968 deal that saw it acquired by Gulf & Western. A year later, he launched Sussex Records (named for success and sex); its stable of artists included Withers, a onetime aircraft mechanic, and Detroit singer-songwriter Rodriguez (Searching for Sugar Man).
Also in the ’70s, Avant founded KAGB-FM (Avant Garde Broadcasting), one of the first Black-owned radio stations in the U.S., and launched Tabu Records, which did well with the S.O.S. Band, Cherrelle, Alexander O’Neal and Jam & Lewis as songwriters and producers.
Avant repped Edmonds and Reid in connection with the 1989 launch of the joint venture between their labels, LaFace Records and Arista Records, that sent Toni Braxton and other artists on their way.
Avant also guided Jim Brown‘s transition from the NFL to acting, helped Hank Aaron realize his endorsement potential after he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record and persuaded ABC to drop plans for a Dick Clark-produced dance show that would have competed with Soul Train.
He did his work behind the scenes and shunned publicity. “I don’t make speeches, I make deals,” he often said.
As a producer, his credits included the Douglas Turner Ward play The Reckoning for the Negro Ensemble Company in 1969 and the 1973 documentary Save the Children, which featured concert performances by Withers, Roberta Flack, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, The Jackson 5 and more.
He operated his Interior Music Group and Avant Garde Music publishing companies until they were sold in 2018 to Universal Music Group.
In 2007, Avant received the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP. A year later, he accepted the Recording Academy’s Trustees Award, given to those whose careers (outside of performing) have made “significant contributions” to music.
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” he says in the Black Godfather documentary. “Life is about one thing — numbers — nothing else. What did Tina Turner say? ‘What’s love got to do with it?’ Not a fucking thing, man. That’s why I tell people, ‘Life begins with a number and ends with a number.’”
Source From: www.hollywoodreporter.com