Today, we take the timeout to celebrate the life of Clarence Alexander Avant, also known as the Godfather, who passed away on August 13, 2023.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Godfather as one who founds, supports, or inspires. Synonyms for the word Godfather include mentor, pilot, shepherd, show, steer, foster, nurture, and cultivate. It is hard to imagine one person embodying the word and the descriptions across multiple worlds, but this word precisely defines my friend, confidante, and mentor, Clarence Alexander Avant.
Clarence Avant was born in segregated Climax, North Carolina, in 1931, the eldest of eight children. There were few opportunities in Climax for a person like Clarence, so he dropped out of high school when he was sixteen (16) and moved to New Jersey. After a few odd jobs, Clarence got the breaks that he had hoped for as the manager of Teddy P’s Lounge in Newark, New Jersey, and Joseph Glaser, the long-time manager of Louis Armstrong. From there, Mr. Avant started managing Little Willie John, a blues artist, jazz singer Sarah Vaughn, rock and roll pioneer Tom Wilson, and pianist-composer Lalo Schifrin from Argentina.
In November 1943, Clarence founded Consolidated Booking and Associated Booking. This was the first of several corporations, such as Avant Garde Enterprises, which he opened in November 1962, along with offices on the West Coast in September 1964. Clarence moved to Beverly Hills, California, to join Venture Records, the first joint venture between an African-American-owned music company and a major label (MGM), in 1967. After MGM shuttered Venture Records, Clarence Avant founded Sussex Records in 1969, where Bill Withers made his mark. And, in 1971, founded Avant Garde Broadcasting in 1971, which he used to purchase KAGB-FM, the first African American-owned FM station in Los Angeles. In January 1976, Clarence started Tabu Records, which signed artists such as The SOS Band, Alexander O’Neal, and Cherrelle. In 1993, Clarence was named Chairman of Motown Records and ran the publishing arm of Avant-Garde Music until he sold it to Universal Music Group in 2018.
Clarence Avants’ influence guided and inspired musical artists and executives through the years. The lives he touched reads like a Who’s Who of entertainment: Quincy Jones, David Geffen, Jay-Z, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Pharrell /Williams, Whitney Houston, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Queen Latifah, Sean Combs, Snoop Dogg, Jamie Foxx, among others.
Clarence Avant’s power was not limited to the music industry. He understood the importance of politics and had access to people in the highest offices, regardless of whether they were Democrats or Republicans. He was an advisor to former President George H. W. Bush, and he had close ties with and was a fundraiser for former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
While living in New York, Clarence was a National Association of Radio Announcers and the Apollo Theatre Foundation board member. In Los Angeles, he served on the board of the United Way, the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, the Brotherhood Crusade, and the NAACP. We were also privileged to have him as a Los Angeles Urban League board member.
Jamie Foxx, Jimmy Jam Harris, Terry Lewis, Quincy Jones, and Bill Withers unveiled Clarence Avant’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in October 2016. He received the President’s Merit Award as a Grammy Icon at the 2018 Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Clarence Avant into the 2021 Class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Clarence was also a family man. He and his wife, Jacqueline “Jackie,” were together for 54 years until her untimely death during a home invasion in 2021. They are survived by their two (2) adult children, Nicole and Alexander.
The world lost yet another incredible man. Our family also lost a friend, confidante, and mentor. His contributions changed lives for generations. We are grateful the legacy of “The Godfather” will live on through them for generations.
Our condolences and prayers go out to all of his loved ones.