The world of entertainment is mourning the loss of Clarence Alexander Avant, an iconic figure affectionately known as the “Black Godfather,” who passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles on Sunday, August 13, 2023. He was 92 years old. Avant’s influence stretched far beyond the realms of music, entertainment, politics, and sports, leaving a lasting mark on generations to come.
Born on February 25, 1931, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Avant rose from the challenges of segregation to become a trailblazer in the entertainment industry. His impact was acknowledged by top artists, executives, and influential figures including Quincy Jones, Jay-Z, Whitney Houston, Pharrell Williams, Lionel Richie, and many more.
Avant’s journey to prominence began in the 1960s, where he managed the careers of pioneering blues artist Little Willie John, famed composer Lalo Schifrin, jazz legend Sarah Vaughan, and jazz organist Jimmy Smith. Notably, his record-breaking deal for jazz producer Creed Taylor with A&M Records showcased his negotiation skills. This accomplishment caught the attention of Quincy Jones, leading to a lasting friendship and collaboration that would shape the industry.
In 1968, Avant orchestrated the sale of the legendary Stax Records, a monumental move that solidified his reputation as a behemoth figure in the music business. Through the years, Avant’s influence expanded, and he ventured into forming his record company, Sussex Records. The label was instrumental in launching the careers of artists like Bill Withers, The SOS Band, Alexander O’Neal, and Cherrelle.
Beyond music, Avant’s impact reached into sports and politics. He guided the careers of sports icons such as Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Hank Aaron, elevating them to new heights both on and off the field. His influence extended into the political arena, where he nurtured the early careers of Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, transcending party lines as an advisor to leaders across the spectrum.
His legacy extended to the business side of entertainment as well. He formed Tabu Records in the 1980s, churning out hits that not only resonated with audiences but also laid the foundation for hip-hop’s evolution. His advice was instrumental in shaping the careers of super producers like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who worked with Janet Jackson to create her groundbreaking album Control.
Avant’s entrepreneurial spirit remained strong into the 1990s, as he took on the role of Chairman at Motown Records after its sale to Polygram. He continued to operate his own companies, Interior Music Group and Avant Garde Music, until they were eventually acquired by Universal Music Group in 2018. His story was told through the lens of a documentary in Netflix’s The Black Godfather.
Throughout his illustrious career, Avant accumulated a multitude of accolades, including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Industry Icon Award at the Grammys, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.