Clarence Avant, the manager, entrepreneur, and label owner who helped launch the careers of artists like Quincy Jones and Bill Withers, has passed away aged 92.
Clarence Avant, known as the “Black Godfather” of music for his influence throughout the industry as a manager, entrepreneur, and adviser who helped launch the careers of Quincy Jones, Bill Withers, and many more, has passed away. He was 92.
According to a family statement released Monday, Avant died Sunday at his Los Angeles home. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, with his achievements ranging both behind the scenes and public.
“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 family’s statement, released by Avant’s son Alex, daughter Nicole and her husband, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.
Sometimes affectionately referred to as the “Black Godfather” of music, Avant took to heart the advice of his early mentor, music manager Joe Glaser, and became a manager himself in the 1950s with clients such as Sarah Vaughan, 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 became the head of Motown after its founder Berry Gordy Jr. sold the company. Avant also started such labels as Sussex and Tabu, with artists including Bill Withers, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the S.O.S. Band, and singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who would become famous decades later through the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugarman.” Rodriguez passed away last week.
Avant actually appeared in that documentary, though his interview raised serious questions over where Rodriguez’ considerable royalties went. A flop in the US but a superstar in South Africa, Rodriguez wasn’t paid for millions of record sold. The documentary strongly suggested that Rodriguez was cheated out of his millions. In 1975, Avant’s Sussex went out of business with considerable IRS tax liens.
On a more positive note, Avant helped Michael Jackson organize his first solo tour, advised Narada Michael Walden, L.A. Reid, Babyface, and other younger artists, and raised money for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. Bill and Hillary Clinton offered a statement on Monday commemorating Avant’s passing.
In addition to his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, Avant was honored throughout his career with two honorary Grammy awards, an NAACP Image Award, and a BET Entrepreneur award.