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Clarence Avant, ‘Black Godfather’ of music, and benefactor of athletes and politicians, dies aged 92

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Clarence Avant, the judicious manager, entrepreneur, facilitator and adviser who helped launch or guide the careers of Quincy Jones, Bill Withers and many others and came to be known as the “Black Godfather” of music and beyond, has died. He was 92.

Avant, inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, died on Sunday, August 14, at his home in Los Angeles, 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.

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.”

Born in 1931, Clarence Avant spent his early years in Greensboro, North Carolina, one of eight children raised by a single mother, and he dropped out of high school to move north. A friend from North Carolina helped him find work managing a lounge in Newark, New Jersey, and he soon got to know Glaser, whose clients ranged from Louis Armstrong to Barbra Streisand, not to mention Al Capone. Through Glaser, Avant found himself in places where Black people rarely had been permitted.

As he rose in the entertainment industry, Avant became more active politically. He was an early supporter of Tom Bradley, the first Black mayor of Los Angeles, and served as executive producer of Save the Children, a 1973 documentary about a concert fundraiser for the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH. Three years earlier, when he learned that the civil rights leader Andrew Young was running for Congress, in Georgia, he gave him a call.

‘The Godfather of Black Music’

Sometimes called “The Godfather of Black Music,” he 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 SOS Band and an obscure singer-songwriter, Sixto Rodriquez, who decades later became famous through the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugarman.

Read more Article réservé à nos abonnés Sitting down with Sixto Rodriguez, a musician with a bittersweet life

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, LA 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 met Jacqueline Gray, a model at the time, at an Ebony Fashion Fair in mid-1960s and married her in 1967. They had two children: Music producer-manager Alexander Devore and Nicole Avant, the former US ambassador to the Bahamas and, along with Sarandos, a major fundraiser for Obama. Besides his Rock Hall induction, his honors included two honorary Grammys, an NAACP Image Award and a BET entrepreneur award.

Le Monde with AP



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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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