'The Black Godfather' of Entertainment Clarence Avant Dead at 92: Clive Davis, JAY-Z and More Pay Tribute

Clarence Avant
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation

The beloved 'Godfather' of music, entertainment and more, died Sunday at his Los Angeles home. He was 92.

Much like the wide reach of Clarence Avant's influence was felt throughout music, entertainment, sports, politics and beyond, the news of his death has celebrities and prominent figures from all industries paying tribute to his longstanding legacy. 

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, died Sunday at his Los Angeles home. His son, Alex Avant, daughter, Nicole Avant, and son-in-law, Ted Sarandos, shared the news in a statement on 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."

Within just a couple of hours, tributes from key figures spanning all corners of the music, entertainment, sports and political world began pouring out on social media or via statement.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honored its 2021 inductee with a statement, 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.'"

Clive Davis also issued a statement in honor of his longtime peer, calling the late industry great "truly one of a kind."

"His passing is a great loss of someone who is irreplaceable. Clarance's extraordinary contribution to music and the barriers he broke throughout his career are unrivaled," he said. "He was the mentor to all Black executives in the music industry for decades, providing invaluable guidance and support while always standing up for equal rights. Clarence was humane and fair and inspired love and respect from all who knew him. I personally loved him and will miss him forever."

Courtesy of West Grand Media, LLC.

In a statement to ET, Motown founder Berry Gordy recalled his longtime relationship with Avant. "With the passing of Clarence Avant the world has lost an icon, his family has lost their patriarch, and I lost a dear friend. Clarence earned his reputation as the Black Godfather for good reason. People, especially musicians and artists, went to him when they were in trouble and one way or another, he would fix the problem," he shared. 

He added: "Clarence was continuously engaged in the things that made a difference.  He loved politics and was very involved with many charities. Of his numerous professional accomplishments - Clarence was most proud of his family - his beloved wife Jacqueline, his son Alex, his daughter Nicole and her husband Ted Sarandos. My heart goes out to them. Our Black Godfather may be gone - but he will never be forgotten."

Sir Lucian Grainge, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, said in a statement: "Clarence Avant's extraordinary musical legacy has been felt for decades and will be felt for decades to come.  He will be remembered as both a brilliant catalyst and protector of culture.  His understated yet powerful influence transcended music, spanning the worlds of entertainment, sports and politics.  I am profoundly grateful for his friendship and mentorship.  We have lost an incomparable visionary whose brilliance, humor, irreverence, and love made the world a better place. On behalf of everyone at UMG, we offer our deepest condolences to Nicole, Ted and Alex and to their entire family."

Actress Laura Dern took to Instagram to share her tribute to Avant. The Jurassic Park star posted two photos of her with Avant, captioning the post, "The Godfather. Clarence. Icon/hero/father/husband/buddy/favorite storyteller. What an honor to know and love you and your family, and for you to know mine. We know you’re now in 'Grandmas Hands.' And what 'a number you are,' sir!"

Pharrell shared a tribute to his Instagram Story, writing, "Clarence Avant was a visionary and transcendent spirit. He is the ultimate example of what change looks like, what architecting change looks like, and what the success of change looks like. He started diversity in the face in climates and conditions that weren't welcoming to people that looked like him. But through his talent and relentless spirit in the pursuit to be the best of the best, he garnered the support and friendship of people who wouldn't otherwise look in our direction."

Pharrell Instagram Story

The Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote, "#ClarenceAvant, a legend in the music industry, was the go-to guy for many of us in the music industry including #BerryGordy of Motown, #AlBell of Stax Records, and a countless list of others. He helped promote their careers and expand their businesses."

"#ClarenceAvant discovered Bill Withers. He was a great friend and I admired him greatly. What a mighty tree. My wife Jackie &our family send our sincere condolences&fervent prayers to Nicole&Alexander. Rest in heavenly peace," he concluded in a second post.

JAY-Z’s Roc Nation Entertainment shared a collective statement online, reading, "Clarence Avant isn't just the 'Godfather Of Black Music,' he is our cultural Godfather. Throughout his life, he burst through doors and tore down ceilings, changing lives and providing opportunities for generations. A true pioneer, a mentor and a champion, Clarence Avant is and always will be a giant among us."

Viola Davis shared a photo of Avant to her Instagram page, writing, "Thank you for your warrior spirit sir. For the paths you have blazed, the artists that you have influenced, emboldened, created...Thank you for living a BOLD life! You have earned your rest. Jacqueline is waiting with open arms for you!"

Filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry wrote, "Rest in peace Clarence Avant. You changed the game for real."

Former President Bill Clinton wrote, "Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend Clarence Avant, whose legendary career brought artists and their music to millions of people. He also used his success to open doors of opportunity to new generations of entrepreneurs and promoters. He was skillful, savvy, warm, and wise. It was impossible to spend time with him and not come away feeling more positive and wanting to follow his example. We just loved him."

Former White House aide and National Black Justice Coalition co-founder Keith Boykin wrote, "Clarence Avant managed Sarah Vaughan, discovered Bill Withers, promoted Michael Jackson's first solo world tour, and served as chairman of Motown... RIP King."


Sherriliyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote, "'The Godfather' has left us. This man was singularly responsible for helping so many Black artists get paid their worth. Also was a wonderful supporter & former board member of @NAACP_LDF."

Former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile wrote, "Goodbye my friend. Sending my condolences to his family and many friends."

Rev. Al Sharpton wrote, "#ClarenceAvant was a revolutionary. When people in the entertainment world were delegated to a near master/slave relationship, he broke through that wall of exploitation and made us respected business people. I can't count the enormous amount of situations that he negotiated."

"I can't count the moves he made happen that I was personally involved in," he added. "He was indeed the Black Godfather! RIP, Clarence. We'll never forget you and won't let the world forget you either"

Avant'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.