Clarence Avant aka “The Black Godfather” passed away Sunday at the age of 92. Avant’s influence spanned music, sports, entertainment and politics, and while many had never heard of him before Netflix aired a documentary on his career and many accomplishments, your favorite celebrity likely knows him and his legend.
“It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant,” the entertainment mogul’s children, Nicole and Alexander, and his son-in-law Ted Sarandos said in a statement. “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, whose wife, Jaqueline Avant, was tragically murdered in December 2021, was, at least in part, responsible for the careers of some of our most iconic musicians and recording artists including Bill Withers, Sixto Rodriguez, and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Avant was instrumental in brokering the sale of the legendary Stax Records in the late ’60s. He became chairman of the board of Motown Records and the first Black board member at PolyGram.
In fact, for decades, Avant has been the unsung hero for Black culture and entertainment, and he used his expertise and influence to be a true pioneer in creating spaces for African American creatives. And that’s on top of Avant serving as a political advisor to most of America’s commanders-in-chief dating back nearly 50 years.
He launched one of the first fully black-owned radio stations, and didn’t hesitate to take stands in defense of black culture as a consultant to MGM and ABC in the 1970s. He also served as an advisor, official and otherwise, to Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.
But it’s for his role as an industry mentor in the music business that Avant is perhaps most lauded. In addition to Jam and Lewis, figures as diverse as L.A. Reid and Babyface, Sylvia Rhone, Jheryl Busby, and Jimmy Iovine count him as a key mentor. He persuaded NFL star Jim Brown to launch an acting career. He was an active figure in politics since the 1960s, and will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Oct. 7. As Avant’s lifelong best friend Quincy Jones once put it, “Everyone in this business has been by Clarence’s desk, if they’re smart.”
Rest well, Godfather. You will be missed, but your legend will live on forever.