“Godfather Of Black Music” Clarence Avant dies aged 92

Clarence Avant "The Black Godfather"
Clarence Avant "The Black Godfather" Copyright Netflix
Copyright Netflix
By David MouriquandAgencies
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“Everyone in this business has been by Clarence’s desk, if they’re smart.”


Clarence Avant, who was dubbed the “Godfather of Black Music and Entertainment", has died at the age of 92.

A statement provided by his family including son-in-law Ted Sarandos, the Netflix Co-CEO, announced Avant’s death “with a heavy heart,” and said he had “passed away gently” Sunday at his Los Angeles home.

“Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence became affectionately known as ‘the Black Godfather’ in the worlds of music, entertainment, politics, and sports,” the statement said. “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.”

Avant was a pioneering music executive who was also a film producer and entrepreneur.

“Everyone in this business has been by Clarence’s desk, if they’re smart,” Quincy Jones liked to say of him.

Born in a segregated hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, Avant was the eldest of eight children.

He broke in as a manager in the 1950s, with such clients as singers Sarah Vaughan and Little Willie John and composer Lalo Schifrin, who wrote the theme to Mission: Impossible.

Avant moved on to forge Avant Garde Broadcasting in 1971 and he subsequently bought the first Black-owned FM radio station in metropolitan L.A. in the 1970s.

He also started such labels as Sussex (a hybrid of two Avant passions — success and sex) and Tabu, with artists including Withers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the S.O.S Band and an obscure singer-songwriter, the recently departed Sixto Rodriquez, who decades later became famous through the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugarman.

Avant brokered the sale of Stax Records to Gulf and Western in 1968, after being recruited by Stax executive Al Bell as a bridge between the entertainment and business industries. He raised money for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and helped Michael Jackson organize his first solo tour.

As he rose in the entertainment industry, Avant became more active politically. He was an early supporter of Tom Bradley, the first Black mayor of Los Angeles, and served as executive producer of Save the Children, a 1973 documentary about a concert fundraiser for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s “Operation PUSH.” 

He served as an advisor, official and otherwise, to Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.

In 1993, Avant was named chairman of Motown Records after its sale to Polygram (both companies are now owned by Universal Music Group). He continued to operate his Interior Music Group and Avant Garde Music publishing companies until they were sold in 2018 to Universal.

He was awarded the Industry Icon Award at the Grammys, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Lionel Richie in 2021.

"He's a teacher; he's a master communicator; he's the perfect marriage between street sense and common sense," said Lionel Richie when presenting Avant with the Rock Hall's Ahmet Ertegun Award. "And what he did for us — and when I say 'us,' I mean the sons and daughters of the Afro-American community — he was the one that brought us to some understanding of what the music business was all about."

A 2019 Netflix feature, The Black Godfather, depicted his story. It was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics, which were penned by Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo.

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