Clarence Avant, Renowned as Industry Mentor to Black Musicians, Dead at 91
Biography Of Clarence Avant
|1921||Born||Born in Greensboro, North Carolina|
|1960s||Early Career||Worked as a nightclub manager in New Jersey|
|1960s||Artist Management||Managed artists like Little Willie John, Sarah Vaughan, Tom Wilson|
|1967||Venture Records||Founded Venture Records as an outlet for MGM soul artists|
|1968||Stax Records||Helped broker sale of Stax Records|
|1969||Sussex Records||Founded Sussex Records, signed artists like Bill Withers|
|1970s||Industry Influence||Advanced careers of artists like Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Babyface, L.A. Reid|
|1973||Film Production||Produced movie “Save the Children”|
|1975||Sussex Fold||Sussex Records folded after IRS seizure|
|1980s||Political Fundraising||Raised over $1 million for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign|
|1990s||Continued Influence||Remained highly influential mentor in music industry|
|2000s||Philanthropy||Established Avant Garde Foundation to support education|
|2016||Walk of Fame||Received star on Hollywood Walk of Fame|
|2019||Documentary||Profiled in Netflix documentary “The Black Godfather”|
|2019||Clive Davis Honors||Received Industry Icon Award at Clive Davis’ Pre-Grammy Gala|
|2021||Rock Hall Induction||Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame|
|2021||Wife Killed||Wife Jacqueline killed in home burglary attempt|
|2022||Passed Away||Died at age 91 in Los Angeles|
|2022||Legacy||Remembered as mentor to Black artists and “godfather” of industry|
|2022||Tributes||Honored by figures like Clive Davis and Quincy Jones|
|2022||Influence||Shaped careers of artists from jazz, soul, R&B, hip-hop|
|2022||Barrier Breaking||Broke racial barriers throughout long career|
|2022||Guidance||Provided guidance to generations of Black music executives|
|2022||Power Broker||Skilled deal maker and negotiator behind the scenes|
|2022||Fairness||Known for being fair and humane in all dealings|
|2022||Respect||Earned widespread love and respect across music world|
Early Life and Career Beginnings of Clarence Avant
Clarence Avant, an influential music and entertainment executive known as “The Black Godfather,” died on Sunday at the age of 92. Avant passed away at his home in Los Angeles, according to a statement released on Monday by his family members, including his son Alex Avant, daughter Nicole Avant, and son-in-law Ted Sarandos. Through his pioneering business leadership, Avant earned the nickname “The Black Godfather” for his impact on music, entertainment, politics and sports. Avant’s family said he leaves behind loved ones and many associates whose lives he influenced, and whose work will continue his legacy.
Avant, originally from North Carolina, became a major figure in the entertainment industry after moving to Los Angeles in the late 1960s. In 1969, he started Sussex Records, which signed artists like Sixto Rodriguez and soul singer Bill Withers, who released major hits while on the label.
Earlier in Avant’s career, he worked as a nightclub manager in New Jersey before getting into artist management. He managed R&B, jazz, and rock artists including Little Willie John, Sarah Vaughan, and producer Tom Wilson.
Launching Venture Records and Sussex Records of Clarence Avant
Avant’s first record label was Venture Records, founded in 1967 as an outlet for MGM’s soul artists. Venture closed after two years, but Avant then helped broker the sale of the legendary Stax Records in 1968. He founded Sussex Records after that, but it folded in 1975 when the IRS auctioned its assets over unpaid taxes.
Avant also bought radio station KAGB-FM, making it the first Black-owned FM station in Los Angeles.
He helped advance the careers of many influential music figures like L.A. Reid, Babyface, Michael Jackson, and Quincy Jones. His influence spanned Motown, jazz, and the early days of hip-hop.
Beyond music, Avant was involved in film production and politics. He produced the 1973 film “Save the Children” and raised over a million dollars for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign.
So his career achievements and influence extended across music, film, politics, and radio broadcasting. He propelled the careers of many artists and left a major mark on multiple industries.
But Avant’s most important legacy is as a mentor to Black artists in the music industry.
When Avant received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016, producer Quincy Jones called him the “original godfather” of the business. Jones said Avant always gave him honest advice and brokered many important deals behind the scenes without seeking credit.
Avant’s star is located next to producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. At the ceremony, Jam said there would be no Jam and Lewis without Avant’s mentorship.
In 2019, Avant was honored with the Industry Icon Award at music executive Clive Davis’ annual Pre-Grammy Gala.
So while Avant made major contributions across music, film, and politics, his enduring impact stems from mentoring and supporting the careers of countless Black artists and music professionals. He was seen as a godfather figure who shaped the industry.
Music executive Clive Davis said in a statement that Avant was “truly one of a kind” and “irreplaceable,” calling his passing a great loss. Davis said Avant made extraordinary contributions to music by breaking barriers, and was a mentor to all Black music executives for decades, providing guidance and advocating for equal rights. Davis said Avant inspired love and respect from all who knew him.
Becoming the “Black Godfather” of the Industry
In 2019, Avant was the subject of a Netflix documentary “The Black Godfather” which highlighted his relationships with political and music figures ranging from Lionel Richie to Snoop Dogg and former presidents Clinton and Obama.
That same year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Lionel Richie.
In late 2021, Avant suffered a tragedy when his wife Jacqueline Gray, whom he married in 1967, was fatally shot during an attempted burglary at their home.