The former Motown chairman and entertainment industry executive died at his home in Los Angeles.
Clarence Avant, the beloved former Motown chairman whose work as an industry executive and mentor earned him the nickname the "Black Godfather" of music, sports, politics and entertainment, has died. He was 92.
Clarence 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. Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence became affectionately known as 'The Black Godfather' in the worlds of music, entertainment, politics, and sports," the statement reads. "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. Clarence passed away gently at home in Los Angeles on Sunday, August 13, 2023. He was 92."
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honored its 2021 inductee with a statement in memoriam, calling the late record label owner "cool, savvy, confident, and fearless -- someone who made the seemingly impossible possible."
The statement adds, "Avant served a variety of roles during his illustrious career, including manager, label owner, concert organizer, event producer, political fundraiser, and mentor. He was the quintessential impresario, with an uncanny ability to connect people, open doors, and provide opportunities for countless musicians, actors, and politicians. Hall of Famer Bill Withers perfectly summed up Avant's impact: 'He put people together.'"
Clarence helped give rise to Black American culture as one of the most influential businessmen in entertainment. The Greensboro, North Carolina, native became a pillar in entertainment after moving to Los Angeles in the late 1960s.
He went on to manage Sarah Vaughan and Jimmy Smith and brokered the sale of Stax Records in the 1960s; discovered and signed "Ain't No Sunshine" singer Bill Withers after he formed his own record company, Sussex Records, in the '70s; purchased KAGB-FM making it the only Black-owned FM radio station in Los Angeles at the time; co-promoted Michael Jackson's first solo world tour in the '80s; mentored the careers of such figures as Muhammad Ali, for whom he secured a variety special on ABC; helped build Freedom National Bank of Harlem for baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson; and served as Motown's chairman of the board in the '90s after its sale to PolyGram.
"He's a teacher, he's a master communicator, he's the perfect marriage between street sense and common sense," Richie said when Avant received the Ahmet Ertegun Award from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021. "What he did for us, the sons and daughters of the Afro American community, he brought us some understanding of what the music business was all about."
"Without Clarence Avant, there is no Hank Aaron," home run record breaker Hank Aaron -- for whom Clarence negotiated the largest endorsement deal in professional sports history -- told viewers in the 2019 documentary film, The Black Godfather.
The Black Godfather, directed by Reginald Hudlin and produced by Clarence's daughter, Nicole, features interviews with Snoop Dogg, Jamie Foxx, Ludacris and former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, among others. The film, available on Netflix, tells the story of the music executive who successfully launched record labels, a radio station and became the ultimate mentor. It also gives a behind-the-scenes look into the life of the go-to man in music, film, TV and politics.
"Every year at Christmas I watch It's a Wonderful Life and when I found out that the angel's name was Clarence, I thought, 'That's what my dad does,'" Nicole previously told ET regarding the documentary. "My father must be an angel because he helps people's dreams come true."
"The common theme through every story [about my father] was, as great as all of us became, there were so many trials and tribulations attributed to injustice and racism, blatant racism, systemic racism, and they still found a way to work with each other and protect each other and continue to move our people forward," Nicole expressed. "To continue to move African Americans forward."
"The beauty of the film is that there were so many allies. There were so many people working together for the common good and for the good of all America," she continued. "Whether it was the presidents, you just mentioned Obama and Clinton, or it was Hank Aaron or Andrew Young…They were all doing the same thing, maybe not even knowing how much they were moving the needle."
For Nicole, it's so important to continue to share Black stories so that people can learn and create real change.
"There are so many different stories or movies and TV shows that really tell our experience," Nicole noted. "And I'm happy that we made the film exactly almost a year ago to the day, and it came out on Netflix and it's still alive, and it's still there and people are still responding to it. So for me and Reggie, it is a great honor that we're still talking about these themes today and all of those themes that we're talking about in the news today are in our film."
Clarence's death came almost two years after his wife of 54 years, philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, was shot and killed by an intruder in their Beverly Hills home in the early morning hours of Dec. 1, 2021. She was 81.
They are survived by their daughter, Nicole Avant, a former U.S. Ambassador, political advisor, film producer and philanthropist, who is married to Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos and their son, Alex Avant, a talent representative for a major Los Angeles-based agency.