Jamie Foxx and Clarence Avant sitting down
Photo Credit: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

For Clarence Avant, Legacy Was Always the Mission

Legendary record executive and mentor Clarence Avant died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 92. Avant, who did his most prominent work behind the scenes, leaves a long history.

Prior to 2019, Clarence Avant was a name that most outside of the entertainment industry and politics didn’t know. He was a mysterious figure of sorts, brokering deals and offering guidance to some of the biggest names in politics, sports, Hollywood, and music. His name is often never mentioned, but his work reverberated through various communities across cultures. With the help of his daughter Nicole Avant and notable filmmaker Reggie Hudlin, the world was introduced to the larger than life figure through the 2019 Netflix documentary, The Black Godfather.

Stars like Sean “Diddy'' Combs, Pharrell Williams, Barack Obama, close friend Quincy Jones, Bill Clinton, and Jamie Foxx echoed sentiments of admiration for the man who streamlined success for Black entertainers and athletes from Hollywood, as well as advised leaders of the free world in the White House. For a Black man to have such power, leadership and connections without being overly boastful or even egotistical, Avant garnered respect until his dying day, this past Sunday at his Los Angeles home at 92 years-old.

The Black Godfather | Trailer | Netflixyoutu.be

Avant’s list of accomplishments and varied resume is lengthy and diverse. Born in 1931 in Greensboro, North Carolina, he got his start after moving to New Jersey as a teenager. Starting off as a nightclub owner and an entertainment manager, Avant then went on to found two record labels: Sussex Records, which gave us Bill Withers, and Tabu Productions, which served as the home to artists like the S.O.S. Band, Cherrelle, Alexander O’Neal, and the iconic producing duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

He brokered deals including the sale of Stax Records; served as a chairman of the board of Motown Records; launched one of the first fully Black-owned radio stations; helped connect Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with Janet Jackson to produce her third studio album Control; advised L.A. Reid and Babyface on the launch of LaFace Records; and was the promoter for Michael Jackson’s 1988 Bad tour (his first ever solo tour). And that’s before we even speak on him working with Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Hank Aaron, or his role as an advisor to presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Clinton, and Obama.

But more than his diverse resume of businesses he operated, owned, and managed, or the careers he oversaw, there was always a clear threadline in the generational work that he produced for himself and others. His role as a mentor to industry executives and artists and entertainers offered a safe space to ask for advice, guidance, and quiet leadership in an industry that can often be malicious for Black creatives and artists.

As expressed by various industry figures in The Black Godfather, many wondered about who would take his place as the Black Godfather of Hollywood. A gate-opener who wanted to make sure the generations after him had the keys to unlock the barriers where their ultimate dreams may be. And an extraordinary figure who wanted to ensure that his people were paid, supported, and given the opportunities to achieve what we now consider Black excellence. The beauty in mentorship is seeing the road ahead to help others achieve their goals. Avant’s expertise and legacy was his ability to be an accessory of success to whoever came across his desk. The entertainment industry can often be a thankless place, but Avant rightfully received the flowers he deserved for helping others cement their places in history.

In an interview with Variety in 2016, Avant stated, “People ask me, ‘how did you do all this?’ How the fuck do I know? I just do things. I just like to take shots.” Before we knew terms like dropping gems or connecting the dots, Avant offered us the original example of being the ultimate dot connector, resulting in a rich legacy that speaks to how caring and impactful he was.