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Clarence Avant

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Clarence Avant
Background information
Birth nameClarence Alexander Avant
Born(1931-02-25)February 25, 1931
Climax, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedAugust 13, 2023(2023-08-13) (aged 92)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
LabelsVenture Records Inc.
Sussex Records
Tabu Records
Motown Records
Formerly ofGallery
The SOS Band
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
Sixto Rodriguez
Jacqueline Alberta Gray
(m. 1967; died 2021)

Clarence Alexander Avant (February 25, 1931 – August 13, 2023) was a prominent American music executive and film producer. Originating from Climax, North Carolina, Avant began his professional journey in the 1950s, managing Teddy P's Lounge in Newark, New Jersey. Under the guidance of Joe Glaser, a notable music manager of the era, Avant managed a diverse portfolio of artists, ranging from R&B talents like Little Willie John to jazz figures such as Jimmy Smith. In the 1960s, he founded Avant Garde Enterprises, marking a significant step in his contributions to the music sector.

Avant was instrumental in the formation and oversight of several record labels, including Venture Records Inc. and Sussex Records. Additionally, he expanded his professional reach into broadcasting by acquiring KTYM-FM, distinguished as the first African-American owned FM radio station in metropolitan Los Angeles. Avant's business acumen was further demonstrated when he played a role in the sale of Stax Records to Gulf+Western.

Widely recognized as "The Black Godfather",[1][2][3][4] Avant's career was characterized by his advocacy for equitable treatment and compensation for African American artists in the entertainment industry. His efforts were acknowledged with his 2021 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Early career[edit]

Clarence Alexander Avant was born in Greensboro, NC, on February 25, 1931 and raised in Climax, North Carolina (Netflix Documentary "The Black Godfather," Director Reginald Hudlin, 2019); he was the oldest of eight children.[5][6] He attended a one-room school in Greensboro, North Carolina until the eighth grade.[7] He spent his freshman and second years of high school at Dudley High School in Greensboro before moving to New Jersey in 1947 as a teenager.[8] In New Jersey, Avant worked as a stock clerk at Macy's and for a law directory. He began in the music business in the 1950s as a manager of Teddy P's Lounge in Newark, New Jersey, owned by promoter Teddy Powell.[9]

Joe Glaser, music manager of Louis Armstrong from 1935 until his death in 1969, and the original proprietor of Sunset Gardens on the South Side of Chicago, mentored Avant. Glaser founded Consolidated Booking Corporation and Associated Booking Corporation on November 26, 1943.[10][11]

Avant later managed R&B singer Little Willie John, jazz singers Sarah Vaughan, Kim Weston, Luiz Bonfa, Wynton Kelly, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Pat Thomas, rock and roll pioneer Tom Wilson, whom Avant partnered with in the Wilson Organization, jazz producer Creed Taylor, jazz musician Jimmy Smith and Argentine pianist-composer, Lalo Schifrin.[12][13] Avant incorporated Avant Garde Enterprises, Inc. on November 7, 1962, in New York, the same month that Smith became a client of Associated Booking, and originally had offices at 850 Seventh Avenue.[14] Schifrin and Smith collaborated to make The Cat, released by Verve Records in 1964.[15] Avant opened a West Coast office in September 1964 to accommodate the growing motion picture soundtrack assignments offered to his clients.[16] During his years in New York, Avant served as an adviser, board member, and executive of the National Association of Radio Announcers (NARA), later the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers (NATRA), and also as a consultant to PlayTape, a two track tape cartridge system developed by Frank Stanton, and first marketed by MGM Records.[17] On September 27, 1966, Avant incorporated Sussex Productions, Inc. in New York, an independent record production firm with artists Four Hi's, Johnny Nash, Terry Bryant, Billy Woods, and the Judge and the Jury.[18]

Venture Records Inc.[edit]

Venture Records Inc., a company for which Avant successfully engineered the first joint venture between an African American artist and a major record company, was incorporated in California in 1967. Founded as an outlet for the soul acts of MGM Records, Venture Records Inc. was run by former Motown songwriter, record producer, and A&R department head William "Mickey" Stevenson.[19] Negotiated for Stevenson by Los Angeles attorney Abraham Somer, the label had offices at 8350 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.[20]

Avant moved from Manhattan to Beverly Hills to work with Venture Records Inc. in the Fall of 1967, doing so until 1969 when MGM Records shut down the label and joint venture. During this time, record producer, songwriter, and executive Al Bell enlisted the aid of Avant, whom he had met through the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers (NATRA), to sell Stax Records to Gulf+Western. The deal was finalized on May 29, 1968, for $4.3 million, with Avant receiving ten percent of all debentures.[21]

In August 1969, Avant became the associate producer, along with Al Bell, of Douglas Turner Ward's The Reckoning (a surreal Southern Fable), presented in co-operation with The Negro Ensemble Company at St. Mark's Playhouse in New York.[22] The Reckoning started the off-Broadway season, starring Jeannette DuBois, later Ja'net Dubois of Good Times fame.[23]

Sussex Records Inc.[edit]

After Venture Records Inc. folded, Avant remained in Los Angeles and founded Sussex Records in 1969.[24] The company went out of business in June 1975, with the IRS seizing and auctioning off all assets because of $48,000 in federal tax liens.[25]

The remaining furniture, office equipment, and recording masters (bought by CBS Records for $50,500) were auctioned in July 1975 at Sussex offices (6255 West Sunset Blvd, Hollywood). Avant signed singer, songwriter, and producer Bill Withers, guitarist Dennis Coffey, and soft rock band Gallery to Sussex Records, which was distributed from 1970 to 1974 by Buddah Records.[26]

Sussex Records is mentioned in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Interviewees in the documentary said in their interviews that they paid royalties from sales of Sixto Rodriguez' records to Sussex Records. It is strongly implied in the documentary that Sixto Rodriguez had been cheated out of the royalties.[27]

Avant Garde Broadcasting[edit]

Under Avant Garde Broadcasting, Inc., founded on August 6, 1971, Avant bought the first African-American owned FM radio station in metropolitan Los Angeles on March 3, 1973, from Trans America Broadcasting Corp, buying the license of KTYM-FM in Inglewood, California for $321,000, including actual facilities at 6803 West Boulevard in Inglewood, and FCC licensing fees, renaming it KAGB-FM.[28][29]

Using a $199,900 promissory note and stock purchase warrants from the Urban National Corporation of Boston, Massachusetts (a Venture Capital company founded in July 1971), Avant partnered with two investment bankers.[30]

Del Shields from the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers served as Executive Vice-president.[citation needed]

Management refused to accept all counsel or advice on how to run the station, despite never turning a profit. Ultimately, AVG was forced into bankruptcy by Urban National on November 20, 1975, when it defaulted on promissory notes and warrants of around $400,000. Avant lost about $611,168.67 in the bankruptcy, $71,500 from Interior Music Corporation advances between August 1973 and September 1974, and $13,887 from Sussex Records loans. Comedian Bill Cosby was an additional investor in Avant Garde Broadcasting, investing approx. $200,000 through his company SAH Enterprises.[31][32]

Save the Children[edit]

In September 1973, Paramount Pictures released Save the Children, with Avant serving as executive producer. Filmed at the Operation PUSH Black Expo in Chicago, the production mixed performances of top black entertainers with footage depicting blacks, especially children, in various conditions, including war-ravaged and malnourished refugees. The film premiered at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.[33]


On May 23, 1998, Avant received the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement, presented by Awards Council member Quincy Jones.[34]

On February 10, 2008, the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded him the Trustees Award.[24]

On October 7, 2016, Avant received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions in the recording industry, located at 6363 Hollywood Boulevard, next to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' star.[35][36]

In February 2018, Avant received the President's Merit Award as a Grammy Icon at the Clive Davis Pre Grammy Gala in Los Angeles.[37]

On May 12, 2021, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that Avant received the Ahmet Ertegun award and will be inducted to the 2021 class.[38] Previous inductee Bill Withers, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama spoke about Avant's impact in a video package.[5]

Personal life[edit]

In 1967, Avant married Jacqueline "Jackie" Alberta Gray.[39] The couple had two children; Nicole and Alexander.[6] Nicole Avant is a former United States Ambassador to the Bahamas, and wife of Netflix executive Ted Sarandos, who produced the Netflix documentary The Black Godfather about her father's music industry career and his influential role advocating for Black artists and athletes.[6][4]

Jackie Avant served as president of the Neighbors of Watts, the support group for the South Central Community Child Care Center in 1975, entertainment chairman of the NOW benefit auction and dinner dance, and chairwoman of NOW membership in 1974.[40][41] She was also on the board of directors of the International Student Center at UCLA.[41] She was shot and killed on December 1, 2021, at age 81, during a home invasion at the couple's residence in Beverly Hills, California.[42][43]

Avant's 75th birthday was celebrated by Billboard in its February 2006 issue.[44]

Clarence Avant died at his home in Los Angeles on August 13, 2023, at the age of 92.[6][45]


  1. ^ "Pioneering Exec Clarence Avant, the Master Mentor". BlackAmericaWeb.com. December 6, 2007. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2010 – via Miami Herald. "When you get someone like Quincy Jones calling you the godfather of the industry, that's pretty big," [Andy] Kellman said.
  2. ^ Goldberg, Danny (2005). How the left lost teen spirit-- (and how they're getting it back). Akashic Books. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-9719206-8-2.
  3. ^ Daunt, Tina (August 17, 2007). "Black celebs are major players". pqasb.pqarchiver.com L A Times August 2007. Archived from the original on November 4, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  4. ^ a b L. Carter, Kelley (August 14, 2023). "Clarence Avant was the guy who made sure Black stars got paid". Andscape. ESPN. Retrieved August 18, 2023.
  5. ^ a b Rettig, James (August 14, 2023). "Clarence Avant, "Godfather Of Black Music," Dead At 92". Stereogum. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d Barnes, Mike (August 14, 2023). "Clarence Avant, 'Godfather of Black Music,' Dies at 92". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on August 14, 2023. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  7. ^ Trakin, Roy. "Clarence Avant, 'The Godfather of Black Music,' Dies at 92". Los Angeles magazine. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  8. ^ "Music Industry Hero Gets Back To His Roots", Greensboro News and Record, May 21, 2006.
  9. ^ "Recalling Newark Night Life". Oldnewark.com. Archived from the original on July 29, 2016. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  10. ^ Obituary, The New York Times, May 17, 1969, p. 33; "Joseph G. Glaser Is Dead at 72; Booking Agent For Many Stars", The New York Times, June 8, 1969, p. 92
  11. ^ "Satchmo Remembers the Big Magaffa", Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1969, p. G44.
  12. ^ "Billboard," April 6, 1963, p. 47.
  13. ^ Geracimos, A. (1968, September 29). A Record Producer Is A Psychoanalyst With Rhythm: A Psychoanalyst With Rhythm. New York Times, p. SM32.
  14. ^ "Bids fly high for Jimmy Smith," "Billboard", December 15, 1962, p. 5.
  15. ^ "Jimmy Smith – The Cat Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic". allmusic.com. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  16. ^ "Avant on Coast," "Billboard", September 19, 1964, p. 4.
  17. ^ "LP Clearance Wheels Turn." Billboard, June 11, 1966, p. 1.; "Avant Launches Sussex." Billboard, November 12, 1966, p. 3.; "PlayTape Girds for Mass Merchandising." Billboard, July 1, 1967, p. WS-2.
  18. ^ "Avant Launches Sussex." Billboard, November 12, 1966, p. 3.
  19. ^ California Secretary of State, Corporation Number: C0533792, Corporate Records, Department of Corporations, Status Report/Statement of Information, Status: Forfeited, Jurisdiction: Delaware.
  20. ^ "MGM, Mickey Stevenson Announce Venture Label", "Record World", October 7, 1967, p. 3.
  21. ^ Bowman, Rob, Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records, Music Sales Group (2003), pp. 142–43; ISBN 978-0-8256-7284-2
  22. ^ The New York Times, August 17, 1969, p. D2.
  23. ^ Kerr, Walter. "For People Who Want To Be Cured of the Theater at Once," The New York Times, August 31, 1969, p. D1
  24. ^ a b Horton, Adrian (August 14, 2023). "Clarence Avant, 'Godfather of Black music', dies aged 92". The Guardian. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  25. ^ Ushe, Naled (August 14, 2023). "Clarence Avant, 'The Black Godfather' of music, dies at 92". USA TODAY. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  26. ^ "Sussex Album Discography". Archived from the original on July 18, 2018. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  27. ^ Michaels, Sean (May 6, 2014). "Rodriguez lawsuit aims to uncover cause of singer's missing royalties". The Guardian. Archived from the original on March 7, 2020. Retrieved April 5, 2020.
  28. ^ "Business Search – Business Entities – Business Programs". kepler.sos.ca.gov. Archived from the original on April 2, 2010. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  29. ^ Avant, Clarence (March 8, 1973). "Clarence Avant Buys Calif. Radio Station". Jet Magazine. Archived from the original on August 14, 2023. Retrieved November 9, 2020., "Avant Garde Gets FCC OK for KYTM-FM", "Radio World", p. 20.
  30. ^ "Urban National Corporation". Articles of Organization-7/20/1971. Domestic Profit Corporation. Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Corporations Division.[dead link]
  31. ^ "Bankruptcy Sale: Avant Garde Broadcasting, Inc. dba KAGB-FM, Bankrupt, Bankruptcy No. BK75-20840-BR.," Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1976, p. F1.
  32. ^ Avant, Clarence (October 21, 1976). "Former All-Pro Davis Buys Radio Station in Calif". Books.google.com: 54. Archived from the original on August 14, 2023. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  33. ^ Weiler, A.H., "Stars Save The Children," The New York Times, September 19, 1973, p. 40
  34. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  35. ^ "Clarence Avant | Hollywood Walk of Fame". www.walkoffame.com. Archived from the original on October 30, 2016. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  36. ^ Mitchell, Gail (October 7, 2016). "Clarence Avant, 'Godfather of Black Music', Receives Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame". Billboard. Archived from the original on October 14, 2016. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  37. ^ Bjornson, Greta (January 25, 2019). "Clarence Avant to be Honored at Pre-GRAMMY Gala". Grammy Awards. Archived from the original on August 7, 2020. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  38. ^ McLaughlin, Nancy (November 1, 2021). "Greensboro's Clarence Avant inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on November 21, 2021. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  39. ^ Brown, Evan Nicole (December 3, 2021). "Remembering Jacqueline Avant: "Her Advocacy Was Profound"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  40. ^ (1975, August 11). "Mrs. Avant New President of Child Care Support Group". Los Angeles Times, p. E7.
  41. ^ a b Gindick, Tia (February 18, 1980), "Beverly Hills Hostess For African Dignitaries: Jackie Avant, Entrepreneur's Wife Is Involved and Active", Los Angeles Times, p. OC_C1.
  42. ^ Pizzello, Chris; Dalton, Andrew; Dazio, Stefanie (December 1, 2021). "Jacqueline Avant, wife of music legend, killed in shooting". Associated Press. Archived from the original on December 1, 2021. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  43. ^ Bjornson, Greta (December 7, 2021). "Suspect Charged with Murder in Death of Philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, Wife of Music Exec Clarence Avant". People. Archived from the original on December 22, 2021. Retrieved December 23, 2021.
  44. ^ "Industry Hero Gets Back to His Roots". nl.newsbank.com May 2006. Archived from the original on October 24, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  45. ^ Tsioulcas, Anastasia (August 14, 2023). "Clarence Avant, a major power broker in music, sports and politics, has died at 92". NPR. Retrieved August 21, 2023.

External links[edit]