Pharrell, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Bill Clinton and More Remember Clarence Avant: “The Ultimate Example of What Change Looks Like”

A myriad of notable Hollywood stars and figures are remembering the late Clarence Avant.

Known as the “Godfather of Black Music,” Avant died at the age of 92 on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles, his family announced in a statement. 

“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.”

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.

The recording industry insider inspired multiple generations of artists and executives. Among the notable names he advised are 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.

During his career, Avant became the chairman of Motown Records after its sale to Polygram in 1993; 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 and co-promoted “Bad,” Michael Jackson’s first solo world tour, in the ’80s.

Avant operated his Interior Music Group and Avant Garde Music publishing companies until they were sold to Universal Music Group in 2018. Among other accomplishments, Avant was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, has been awarded the Industry Icon Award at the Grammys and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

In a statement sent to The Hollywood Reporter, Pharell described Avant as “a visionary and a transcendent spirit.”

“He is the ultimate example of what change looks like, what architecting change looks like, and what the success of change looks like,” he said in a statement. “He stared adversity in the face in climates and conditions that weren’t welcoming to people that looked like him. But through his talent and relentless spirit in the pursuit to be the best of the best, he garnered the support and friendship of people who otherwise wouldn’t look in our direction. He showed them what we can be, what we can do, and how much more we can all achieve if you give us opportunity,”

The statement continued, “He has been behind so many musical greats, people in and across the entertainment industry, and I’m so honored to have known him. He was a Godfather, a Godfather to the Black dream and a Godfather to the American dream. There will never be another like him. It’s my hope and wish that others will see what he’s done and try to go even further, because that’s what he wanted and that’s why he did what he did. He wanted to inspire. While running an extraordinary race in his lifetime, he passed the baton to us. The question now is how we’re going to honor him and what we will we do with the baton. I give honor to GOD, my savior, and I give honor to his family, friends, and the countless people who have been impacted by his presence and time on this planet. Continued blessings and favor to Nicole, Alex, and Ted. Last but not least, his spirit is amongst the stars up in the heavens with The Master. Some people use the phrase “passed away.” I don’t because maybe the time has passed, but I don’t know that you’re away. Clarence went back up from whence he came…heaven. Blessings.”

Clive Davis shared a photo of himself with Avant on social media writing, “Clarence Avant was truly one of a kind. His passing is a great loss of someone who is irreplaceable. Clarance’s extraordinary contribution to music and the barriers he broke throughout his career are unrivaled. He was the mentor to all Black executives in the music industry for decades, providing invaluable guidance and support while always standing up for equal rights. Clarence was humane and fair and inspired love and respect from all who knew him. I personally loved him and will miss him forever.”

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Entertainment remembered Avant as “our cultural Godfather,” saying in a statement, “Throughout his life, he burst through doors and tore down ceilings, changing lives and providing opportunities for generations. A true pioneer, a mentor and a champion, Clarence Avant is and always will be a giant among us.”

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame also said in a statement, “2021 Inductee Clarence Avant, known as ‘The Black Godfather,’ was cool, savvy, confident, and fearless — someone who made the seemingly impossible possible. Avant served a variety of roles during his illustrious career, including manager, label owner, concert organizer, event producer, political fundraiser, and mentor. He was the quintessential impresario, with an uncanny ability to connect people, open doors, and provide opportunities for countless musicians, actors, and politicians. Hall of Famer Bill Withers perfectly summed up Avant’s impact: ‘He put people together.’”

Throughout Avant’s career, he was an influence in politics, seeding the early careers of Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Political figures paid tribute to Avant including Clinton, former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile and former White House aide and National Black Justice Coalition co-founder Keith Boykin.

“It was impossible to spend time with Clarence Avant and not come away feeling more positive and wanting to follow his example.  Hillary and I just loved him,” former President Bill Clinton shared on social media.

President and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherriliyn Ifill wrote, “‘The Godfather’ has left us. This man was singularly responsible for helping so many Black artists get paid their worth. Also was a wonderful supporter & former board member of @NAACP_LDF.”

“Goodbye my friend. Sending my condolences to his family and many friends,” Brazile wrote.

See tributes as they come in, below.

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