CLARENCE AVANT 1931-2023:  ‘The World Lost an Icon’

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Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — Tributes continue to pour in for Clarence Avant, a prominent figure in the music industry whose influence spread into the worlds of sports and politics as well as entertainment, who died Aug. 13 at the age of 92..

Funeral services are pending for the man known as the “Godfather of Black Music.” 

In a statement provided to Variety, his family said, “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. … Top artists and executives like Quincy Jones, JayZ, Whitney Houston, Pharell Williams, Lionel Richie, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Sean Combs, L.A. Reid, Suzanne de Passe, Kenny ‘Baby Face’ Edmonds, Jon Platt, Irving Azoff, Snoop Dogg Reginald Hudland, Benny Medina and Queen Latifah all credit Avant for his inspiration and guidance,” the family statement, sent on behalf of Avant’s children, Nicole and Alexander, and son-in-law Ted Sarandos, the CEO of Netflix, added.

Avant was remembered by recording artists, politicians (including two former presidents) and others forthe impact he made on their careers. 

Bill and Hillary Clinton issued a joint statement saying Avant “brought artists and their music to millions of people.”

“He also used his success to open doors of opportunity to new generations of entrepreneurs and promoters,” they said. “He was skillful, savvy, warm and wise. It was impossible to spend time with him and not come away feeling more positive and wanting to follow his example. We just loved him.”

Barack and Michelle Obama called Avant “one of our favorite people.”

“He exemplified a certain level of cool and street smarts that allowed him to move confidently into worlds that nobody had prepared him for, never doubting he could figure it out,” the Obamas said in a joint statement. “Clarence was part of a generation that served as a bridge from a time when there was very little opportunity for Black people to a time when doors began to open. He demanded the world make room, and he paved the way for the rest of us.”

Vice President Kamala Harris called Avant “a legend” who “was always focused on who he could bring to the table and who he could lift up.”

“From the music industry to the civil rights movement, he brought people together so we could all move forward,” Harris said in a statement. “Clarence supported community leaders through some of the toughest moments of the civil rights movement, and helped open doors for elected officials — from those at city hall and in the halls of Congress, to the White House.

“He was generous, he was funny and he was full of heart.”

Roc Nation, the entertainment company launched by Jay-Z, issued a statement that said “Clarence Avant isn’t just the ‘Godfather of Black Music,’ he is our cultural godfather. 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.”

Basketball legend and businessman Earvin “Magic” Johnson said: “His accomplishments speak for themselves. As a former music manager, he founded two record labels and purchased the first fully black-owned radio station. 

“He consulted many major studios in the 1970s and advised Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. He also served as chairman of the board at Motown Records, promoted Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ tour and is responsible for discovering many of the most incredible music artists we know today.”

Johnson added: “An all-around incredible businessman, Clarence Avant will be remembered most for his leadership and mentorship of Black artists, athletes, and stars, including me, who we know and love. … He knew how to touch every individual he met and meet them where they were in order to get them where they needed to be.”

Another music executive, Berry Gordy of Motown Records, said “with the passing of Clarence Avant, the world has lost an icon, his family has lost their patriarch, and I lost a dear friend.

“Clarence earned his reputation as the Black Godfather for good reason. People, especially musicians and artists, went to him when they were in trouble and one way or another, he would fix the problem. Our Black Godfather may be gone — but he will never be forgotten.”

Avant was a nightclub manager, and was the manager for Lalo Schifrin and Jimmy Smith in the 1960s. He founded two record labels, and helped guide the careers of Bill Withers, Sixto Rodriguez and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.

He became the chairman of the board of Motown Records in the 1990s and was the first Black board member of PolyGram.

He launched the first fully Black-owned radio stations in Los Angeles and was a consultant to MGM and ABC in the 1970s.

Avant was credited with persuading Jim Brown to begin an acting career after a successful NFL career, and served as a mentor to music figures L.A. Reid and Baby Face, Sylvia Rhone, Jheryl Busby and Jimmy Iovine.

He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Feb. 25, 1931, and moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s. He formed his own record company, Sussex Records and purchased KAGB-FM, which was the only Black-owned radio station in Los Angeles at the time.

He married his wife, Jacqueline, in 1967 and had two children, Nicole and Alex. Nicole Avant is a former U.S. ambassador, political adviser and film producer, and is married to Sarandos. Alex Avant is an agent, producer and actor based in Los Angeles.

Jacqueline Avant was shot to death in a burglary attempt at the couple’s home in Beverly Hills in December 2021. She was 81.

Aariel Maynor pleaded guilty to the killing and was sentenced to a minimum of 150 years in prison in 2022.

Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement that Clarence Avant left a legacy “that will inspire music and culture forever.”

“Mr. Avant gave so much to Los Angeles — producing a sound that influenced generations while ceaselessly fighting for civil rights and equal treatment under the law. I had the great fortune to have been able to engage Mr. Avant in insightful and valuable conversations about the top issues that our city and nation were facing and I will always be grateful for the time we shared,” she added.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters said Avant was a brilliant pioneer in the music industry. 

He opened the doors for many Black artists and was highly respected for his ability to negotiate contracts and change the way Hollywood dealt with young Black talent who needed a foot in the door. … I, along with so many others, are going to miss both Clarence and Jackie so very much.”

As of Aug. 16, there was no word of funeral services are memorial tributes for Avant.

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