Clarence Avant, affectionally referred to as “The Black Godfather,” has died.
He was 92.
The sad news was announced by Avant’s family who confirmed his passing via a public statement.
“It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant,” the statement from his children, Nicole and Alexander and son-in-law Ted Sarandos.
“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 was born on February 25, 1931, in segregated Greensboro, North Carolina. He moved to New Jersey in his teens, where he worked as a stock clerk at Macy’s and for a law directory. His pivot into management began in the 1950s when he took on a management role at Teddy P’s Lounge in Newark. In the 60s, Avant rose to prominence, managing the careers of several artists, including Shifrin and Smith, blues artist Little Willie John, singer Sarah Vaughan and jazz producer Creed Taylor. It would be his role in the sale of the legendary label, Stax Records which cemented him as one of the most respected executives in the music industry. Avant was a close friend and colleague of revered producer Quincy Jones. At the time, Jones served as the vice president of Mercury Records. In the 1970s, he was an early patron of Black-owned radio stations. Two decades later, he found a home in Motown after founder Berry Gordy Jr. sold the company.
In 1967, Avant married Jacqueline “Jackie” Alberta Gray. They would go on to have two children; a daughter named Nicole and a son named Alexander. Nicole Avant is a former United States Ambassador to the Bahamas.
Sadly, his wife, Jacqueline Avant, was shot and killed last year at age 81 by an intruder at her Beverly Hills home.
In 2019, Netflix released the documentary “The Black Godfather,” a behind-the-scenes look into Avant’s meteoric rise and legacy.
“Many people in his life tried to talk him into writing a book to tell his story, but he always rejected the idea for years,” director Reginald Hudlin told IndieWire at the time. “And then Nicole, his daughter, came up with the brilliant idea that, instead of a book, maybe it’s a documentary. And he was more open to that, because he’s not a guy who likes to brag about himself, but he could handle other people doing bragging about him.”
Avant was always reluctant to document his life via film or novel but Hudlin remained hopeful that he would be able to change his mind.
“I really hope this is not the end of the Clarence Avant story,” he said. “He’s now officially a part of Black history, we could say. He’s now on the record as being part of American history. We can no longer say that we don’t know about him.”
Throughout his career, Avant worked with some of the industry’s biggest stars, including Whitney Houston, Pharrell Williams, Lionel Richie, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, L.A. Reid, Snoop Dogg, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson.
In 2021, the legendary deal-maker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Lionel Richie.
Rest in Power, Clarence Avant.