(KTLA) – Recording industry insider Clarence Avant, who garnered the nickname of the “Godfather of Black Music,” died at his Los Angeles home Sunday night, according to a family statement released Monday.
“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,” said the statement, which was released by Avant’s son Alex, daughter Nicole and her husband, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.
No cause of death was given.
Avant’s achievements were both public and behind the scenes, as a name in the credits, or a name behind the names. Born in a segregated hospital in North Carolina, he became a man of lasting and wide-ranging influence, in part by minding two pieces of advice from an early mentor, the music manager Joe Glaser: Never let on how much you know, and ask for as much money as possible, “without stuttering.”
Avant broke in as a manager in the 1950s, with such clients as singers Sarah Vaughan and Little Willie John and composer Lalo Schifrin, who wrote the theme to “Mission: Impossible.” In the 1970s he was an early patron of Black-owned radio stations and, in the 1990s, headed Motown after founder Berry Gordy Jr. sold the company.
He also started such labels as Sussex (a hybrid of two Avant passions — success and sex) and Tabu, with artists including Withers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the S.O.S Band and an obscure singer-songwriter, Sixto Rodriquez, who decades later became famous through the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugarman.” (Rodriquez died last week).
Other work took place more quietly. Avant brokered the sale of Stax Records to Gulf and Western in 1968, after being recruited by Stax executive Al Bell as a bridge between the entertainment and business industries. He raised money for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, helped Michael Jackson organize his first solo tour and advised Narada Michael Walden, L.A. Reid and Babyface and other younger admirers.
“Everyone in this business has been by Clarence’s desk, if they’re smart,” Quincy Jones liked to say of him.
Avant’s influence extended to sports. He helped running back Jim Brown transition from football to acting and produced a primetime television special for Muhammad Ali. When baseball great Henry Aaron was on the verge of surpassing Babe Ruth as the game’s home run champion, in 1974, Avant made sure that Aaron received the kind of lucrative commercial deals often elusive for Black athletes, starting with a personal demand to the president of Coca-Cola.
Aaron would later tell The Undefeated that everything he had become was “because of Clarence Avant.”
Avant’s death comes about a year and a half after that of his wife, philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, was fatally shot by an intruder who entered their Beverly Hills home on Dec. 1, 2021.
Her killer, 30-year-old Aariel Maynor, was arrested and then found guilty of first-degree murder in April of 2022. Maynor was sentenced to 190 years to life in prison.
Avant, who managed countless musical talents, and advised producers and artists, was the subject of the 2019 Netflix documentary “The Black Godfather.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.