Monday, August 14, 2023

'Black Godfather' of Music Industry, Clarence Avant, Dies at 92

Photo Courtesy Avant Family

Clarence Avant, widely known as the “Godfather of Black Music” for his influential role in launching the careers of Quincy Jones, Bill Withers, and other music industry luminaries, as well as his guidance to legendary athletes like Muhammad Ali and Hank Aaron, passed away at the age of 92 at his Los Angeles residence on Sunday. His family confirmed the news through a statement that did not disclose the cause of his death.

In a heartfelt announcement, his children, Nicole and Alexander, along with son-in-law Ted Sarandos, shared, “It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant. Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence became 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 associates that have changed the world and will continue to change the world for generations to come. The joy of his legacy eases the sorrow of our loss. Clarence passed away gently at home in Los Angeles on Sunday, August 13, 2023.”

Avant's legacy encompasses a vast array of accomplishments. Starting as a nightclub manager, he managed prominent figures like Lalo Schifrin and Jimmy Smith in the 1960s. He later founded two record labels that introduced the world to talents such as Bill Withers, Sixto Rodriguez and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Avant was instrumental in brokering the sale of Stax Records in the late 1960s and later became chairman of the board at Motown Records, followed by becoming the first African-American board member at PolyGram. 

He also played a pivotal role in establishing one of the earliest fully black-owned radio stations. Additionally, he was an advocate for black culture, providing consultancy services to MGM and ABC during the 1970s. Avant's influence extended to political circles as well, as he advised Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.

The story of Avant's life and impact was highlighted in the 2019 Netflix documentary "The Black Godfather." His remarkable journey will be further commemorated with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in October.

Tragedy had previously struck the Avant family in 2021 when his wife of over 30 years, Jacqueline "Jackie" Avant, a Los Angeles philanthropist, was shot and killed in a home invasion. The incident occurred in their Trousdale Estates residence, where at least one intruder targeted her. Clarence, who was 90 years old at the time, was present but unharmed during the incident.

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