Clarence Avant, Executive Known as the ‘Godfather of Black Entertainment,’ Dies at 92

The film and music bigwig was behind Bill Withers, Sixto Rodriguez and well as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis

Clarence Avant (Photo Credit: Getty Collection)
Clarence Avant (Photo Credit: Getty Collection)

Clarence Avant, the music executive and film producer who was known unofficially as “The Godfather” of Black entertainment, died on Sunday in his Los Angeles home. He was 92.

“It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant,” a statement from his children, Nicole and Alexander, as well as his son-in-law Ted Sarandos read. “Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence became affectionately known as ‘the Black Godfather’ in the worlds of music, entertainment, politics and sports. 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.”

Avant began his music industry career in the 1950s as a manager of Teddy P’s Lounge in Newark, New Jersey. He would later go on to engineer the first joint venture between a Black artist and a major recording company, start his own recording and broadcasting companies and buy KTYM-FM, the first Black-owned FM radio station in Los Angeles.

Under Avant’s now-folded record company Sussex Records, he signed singer, songwriter and producer Bill Withers; guitarist Dennis Coffey; and musician Sixto Rodriguez. In fact, the record company was mentioned in the Oscar-winning documentary about Rodriguez, “Searching for Sugar Man.”

He counted Joseph G. “Joe” Glaser, the music manager of Louis Armstrong, among his mentors. As for his own clients, Avant managed several big names in their fields including R&B singer Little Willie John; jazz singers Sarah Vaughan, Kim Weston, Luiz Bonfa, Wynton Kelly, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Pat Thomas; and rock and roll producer as well as Bob Dylan collaborator Tom Wilson.

Over the course of his career, Avant was recognized repeatedly for his accomplishments, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk fo Fame in 2016 next to his former clients, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. He was also awarded the President’s Merit Award as a Grammy Icon at the Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala in 2018 and was presented with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Ahmet Ertegun award in 2021.