He was a giant among men!
Clarence Avant, the Godfather of Black entertainment, has passed away at the age of 92, Variety reports. A larger than life figure, Avant worked his way up from his humble beginnings in Greensboro, North Carolina, to the top of the entertainment world, serving as a key figure in music, sports, entertainment and politics. Getting his start as a nightclub manager during the ‘60s, Avant went on to manage the careers of Lalo Schifrin and Jimmy Smith, Sarah Vaughan and jazz producer Creed Taylor, parlaying that success into the founding of two record labels, producing stars like Bill Withers, Sixto Rodriguez, and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.
He would continue to serve as a playmaker and industry mentor for more than six decades, even inspiring a Netflix film, “The Black Godfather,” about his life. In 2021, Avant tragically lost his wife of more than 50 years, Jacqueline Avant, during a home invasion. Now the industry mogul has gone to meet her in the great beyond as we celebrate his incomparable life and legacy.
“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,” reads a statement from his children, Nicole, Alexander, and son-in-law Ted Sarandos.
Avant bulldozed pathways for African Americans in entertainment, serving as chairman of the board of Motown Records, making history as the first African-American board member at PolyGram, and launching one of the first 100% Black-owned radio stations in the country. He also served as an advisor and in official capacities to four presidents, including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama. Avant is credited with motivating NFL star Jim Brown to launch his acting career, negotiating the largest endorsement deal in professional sports history at the time on behalf of Hank Aaron, connecting Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with Janet Jackson, and serving as the promoter for Michael Jackson’s first solo tour, the 1988 “Bad” tour.
“Everyone in this business has been by Clarence’s desk, if they’re smart,” Avant’s lifelong best friend and music mogul Quincy Jones once said.
As a mentor, Avant has guided the careers of L.A. Reid and Babyface, Sylvia Rhone, Jheryl Busby, and Jimmy Iovine, awarded the Industry Icon award by the Grammys, earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021 by Lionel Richie. Avant once said he had always been this ambitious, never focusing on one thing in particular, but just committed to doing the work.
“My whole career has been like this. People ask me, ‘how did you do all this?’ How the f--- do I know? I just do things. I just like to take shots,” Avant previously explained.
His accomplishments over the last sixty plus years are innumerous and his imprint on the industry is not able to be quantified. Careers like Avants are hard to duplicate and while he is gone, his influence remains, the mogul mapping out the blueprint for others to follow. Avant once credited his aspirational mindset to his mentor Joe Glaser, a former manager for Louis Armstrong and Barbra Streisand. It was Glaser who inspired him to always aim high. Avant took that advice and aimed for the stratosphere, knowing this thing called life out of the park.
“You can’t walk up the Empire State building - you’ll get tired, your knees might give out. But you can ride the elevator and walk down. You always aim up here, and walk down later if you have to,” said Avant.
Many celebrities have already begun pouring out their condolences and tributes for the music executive, musician Questlove saying Avant’s work “is what life is about.”
“I think in the present we SAY that achievements and reward$ are what will make us happy. But man if I can impact like 1/10th of the lives Clarence Avant did then my life on this plane wasn’t in vain…A human so impactful that the impacted started impacting future impactors. This is what life is about,” wrote Questlove.
We echo those sentiments. Thank you Mr. Avant for everything. May you rest in peace knowing your job was well done.
Cover photo: Remembering Clarence Avant, the godfather of Black entertainment/Photo Courtesy of Charley Gallay/Getty Images/NAACP