R.I.P. Clarence Avant, Godfather of Black Entertainment (1931-2023)

The world lost a true legend with the death of Clarence Avant, the “Godfather of Black Entertainment,” who passed away August 13th in Los Angeles at age 92. He worked quietly behind the scenes to help advance the careers of so many who became giants in the worlds of music, sports and politics, with the aim of providing access for talented African-Americans who were sometimes excluded at higher levels. I extend the deepest condolences to his daughter Nicole, his son Alexander, his son-in-law Ted Sarandos, the Co-CEO of Netflix, and his extended family. He was predeceased by his loving wife of 54 years, Jacqueline, who died tragically in their home in December of 2021. 

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 09: (L-R) Alex Avant, Jacqueline Avant, Clarence Avant, Nicole Avant, and Ted Sarandos attend the Pre-GRAMMY Gala and GRAMMY Salute to Industry Icons Honoring Clarence Avant at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 9, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

When I say legend, it is within the dictionary definition: one who is famous and well-known for doing extraordinary things in their field. The ironic thing is that people within those fields sometimes said they didn’t know exactly what Clarence Avant did, what his title was, or how he did it, but the results spoke for themselves. I came across him not only in the world of entertainment, but in the world of politics where he raised money for former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He also helped Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, Jim Brown and other sports figures. Bill Withers said that he provided the big transition from his life as a professional air craft mechanic to being sought after in the music world.  

The record labels that Mr. Avant founded in the 1960s and 70s were responsible for releasing the work of trailblazing artists including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis as well as Bill Withers. He also gained a reputation for being a sought-after mentor and consultant to such giants as Irving Azoff, Jheryl Busby, Sean Combs, Snoop Dogg, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Jamie Foxx, David Geffen, Whitney Houston, Reginald Hudlin, Jimmy Iovine, Jay-Z, Quincy Jones, Queen Latifah, Jon Platt, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Sylvia Rhone, Lionel Richie, Pharrell Williams and many others. 

For his extraordinary work in the world of music he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Lionel Richie in 2021, and the video they put together to introduce him remains one of my favorites. (See Below.)

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He also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – OCTOBER 07: Music Executive Clarence Avant attends a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on October 7, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

A statement released by his children, Nicole and Alexander, and son-in-law Ted Sarandos, reads, “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.” 

He was born February 25, 1931, in North Carolina. I admired him for staying true to his roots and plain spoken even as he became a quintessential power broker. The extraordinary career of Mr. Avant was chronicled in Reginald Hudlin’s 2019 Netflix documentary, “The Black Godfather”, which included testimonials from many of his distinguished admirers, including former President Barack Obama, who noted, “One of the things that he understands is that there are different kinds of power. There’s the power that needs the spotlight, but there is also the power that comes from being behind the scenes.”

Rest in Heavenly Bliss, Clarence Alexander Avant. 

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