Clarence Avant, the executive and businessman known as “The Black Godfather” of music and entertainment, died Sunday at 92.
Avant died at his Los Angeles home, his son Alex Avant, daughter Nicole Avant and son-in-law Ted Sarandos shared in a statement Monday.
“It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant,” the family said. “Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence became affectionately known as ‘The Black Godfather’ in the worlds of music, entertainment, politics, and sports.”
Avant’s family added: “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.”
Avant, a North Carolina native, became a pillar in entertainment after moving to Los Angeles in the late 1960s. There, he formed Sussex Records in 1969, which signed Sixto Rodriguez and soul singer Bill Withers, who released hits “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me” and “Lean on Me,” while signed to the label.
In his early days, Avant worked as a nightclub manager in New Jersey before moving into artist management. His roster included R&B and jazz musicians such as Little Willie John, Sarah Vaughan and rock producing pioneer Tom Wilson, who would go on to helm work from Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground.
Avant’s first foray into steering a record label came in 1967 with Venture Records, originally founded as an outlet for the soul recording artists on MGM Records. Venture Records lasted only two years, but Avant was ready to jump to his next assignment: helping to broker the sale of legendary Stax Records, which he did in 1968, before founding Sussex Records. Sussex, however, folded in 1975 after the IRS auctioned off the company’s assets due to $48,000 in federal tax liens.
The music executive also purchased KAGB-FM, which made it the first Black-owned FM radio station in Los Angeles.
Avant is credited with advancing the careers of L.A. Reid, Babyface, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and more. His influence in the music industry propelled artists in Motown and jazz and influenced the early days of hip-hop.
His reach extended beyond music as Avant was active in film producing (“Save the Children” in 1973) and politics (he raised more than a million dollars for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign).
But Avant’s legacy is cemented to his role an an industry mentor to Black artists.
“He always told me the truth in all aspects of my life and he’s also been the silent architect of so many deals, it would make your head spin,” Jones wrote. “He gets things done but doesn’t beat his chest or look for credit.”
Avant’s star is located next to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. At the ceremony, Jam commented, “There would be no Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis without Clarence Avant. His star going next to ours couldn’t be a better place.”
In 2019, Avant received the Industry Icon Award as the honoree at fellow music mogul Clive Davis’ annual Pre-Grammy Gala.
“Clarence Avant was truly one of a kind. His passing is a great loss of someone who is irreplaceable,” Davis told USA TODAY in a statement Monday. “Clarence’s extraordinary contribution to music and the barriers he broke throughout his career are unrivaled. He was the mentor to all Black executives in the music industry for decades, providing invaluable guidance and support while always standing up for equal rights. Clarence was humane and fair and inspired love and respect from all who knew him. I personally loved him and will miss him forever.”
Also in 2019, Avant was the subject of a Netflix documentary, “The Black Godfather,” that detailed his involvement with political and musical luminaries ranging from Lionel Richie and Snoop Dogg to former presidents Clinton and Barack Obama.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Lionel Richie in 2021.
Later that year, Avant was struck by tragedy as his wife Jacqueline Gray, whom he married in 1967, was fatally shot in December 2021 during an attempted burglary of the couple’s home.
In 2022, Gray’s assailant, Aariel Maynor, pleaded guilty to several counts, including murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm and robbing a home with a person present.
Jacqueline Avant death: Man charged in fatal shooting was on parole for past convictions
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Clarence Avant dead: ‘The Black Godfather’ of music was 92
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